A liberal arts education is central to Habersham’s mission of “seeking the restoration of God’s image in our students.” First conceived by the ancient Greeks and then fully fleshed out in the Middle Ages, the liberal arts tradition is more than subjects to be mastered. Rather, the seven liberal arts, when properly grounded in a formative early education and motivated by a desire to love the things that God loves, are tried and true ways of developing the moral and intellectual virtue necessary for seeking true wisdom.
Virtue and Education
In the beginning of Plato’s Meno, Socrates is asked “whether virtue is something teachable.” The relationship between virtue and education lies at the heart of the liberal arts tradition. Socrates, who was himself concerned with this question, espouses a model of education in Plato’s Republic. While discussing the nature of justice, and in particular the construction of a truly just city, Socrates contends that the rulers of this city must receive an education that cultivates moral and intellectual virtue. According to Socrates, education must begin with what he calls “gymnastic” and “music.” By gymnastic he meant all things concerned with physical conditioning, while music signified poetry, drama, the fine arts, literature, and even history, in addition to music as we know it today. Characteristic of grammar school, this type of early education recognizes the whole person, body and soul, and the need to properly tune and cultivate a child’s various parts. Thus, gymnastic develops both the self-control and the perseverance that is necessary for all learning. Music provides a kind of tuning of the soul that awakens the imagination and makes one receptive to truth and goodness.
The Seven Liberal Arts
Building on this foundational education in gymnastic and music, Socrates adds the seven liberal arts. These are not “subjects” but rather paths that lead the mind to virtue. They are divided into the Trivium and the Quadrivium. The purpose of these arts is to develop: -the skills of thinking -the tools necessary for justifying all knowledge
Otherwise known as the language arts, these three ways lead a student to an understanding of language, reasoning, and the composition of written and oral texts.
These mathematical arts are more than simply tools to be used for scientific and practical endeavors. For Socrates, in mathematical education the mind rises above the level of changing opinion to see objective truth.
By attuning the mind to identify objective truth (quadrivium) and providing the tools to both discover and articulate the truth (trivium), the liberal arts are preparatory for philosophy, the final stage of education, a stage that never truly ends.
The Charlotte Mason Influence
While Classical education forms much of Habersham’s pedagogy and curriculum selection, much of the classroom methodology for teaching is influenced by Charlotte Mason, a British educator in the late 1800s. Click here to learn more about the Charlotte Mason philosophy and its influence on our classical approach.