The Lion, whose eyes never blinked, stared at the animals as hard as if he was going to burn them up with his mere stare. And gradually a change came over them. The smaller ones—the rabbits, moles and such-like—grew a good deal larger. The very big ones—you noticed it most with the elephants—grew a little smaller. Many animals sat up on their hind legs. Most put their heads on one side as if they were trying very hard to understand. The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees. Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak.”
—C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew—
Last summer, we challenged our families and students to read two books by C.S. Lewis during the summer break. This was in preparation for our C.S. Lewis inspired theme for the 2016-17 school year: “Love. Think. Speak.”
In The Magician’s Nephew of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, Aslan the lion sings Narnia into existence. He then brings forth the creatures who will bear his image as conscious, intelligent beings, and he calls them to these three actions: “Love. Think. Speak.” This phrase reminds our students that they bear God’s image well when they love, think, and speak in ways that honor and glorify God.
It also provides us a nice framework to think about classical education and its overall structure. The grammar stage could be defined by loving the things that God loves. The logic stage could be defined by thinking in a way that reveals God’s truth. And the rhetoric stage could be defined by speaking God’s truth to the world.
THE GRAMMAR STAGE: Love well
In the grammar stage, our main goal is to build a groundwork for future learning. We want to model for students a love for the things that God loves. For example, our God loves order, so in our classrooms we emphasize routine, orderliness, and neatness. Students walk in straight lines, tuck in their shirts, and raise their hands to speak because we want our students to understand the difference between order and chaos so that they delight in the way God has ordered the universe. Our God also loves language. He used it to speak all creation into existence, and it is one of the unique capabilities that He has given us to delight in. So, therefore, our students study English and Latin grammar and learn the basics of how language is structured and functions. They build reading and writing skills through routine exercises like copywork, and through the stories and poetry they read and enjoy. The study of science is first born out of the acknowledgment that God loves his creation; in the grammar stage years we show students as much as we can about the world and the way it functions in their science classes. And our God loves his people, so our youngest students learn the stories of humanity from Creation to the present day. These students sing memory songs for history, geography, and science; they recite scriptures, catechisms, and great speeches; and they drill chants for Latin, English grammar, and math facts. Through these exercises they learn the kinds of memorization strategies that will help them learn information quickly and easily when they are more independent learners later.
Our overall goal during these years is to mold students’ affections. We want them to be drawn towards things that will in turn point them towards God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. This is not hard to do, because young students already delight in orderliness and routine. They intuitively know that this is the way things are supposed to be! They delight in singing their memory songs and repeating those chants again and again. In the grammar stage, we acknowledge that natural affection and use it deliberately to teach students how to begin to pursue knowledge and virtue.
THE LOGIC STAGE: Think well
If the grammar stage is defined by love, then the logic stage is certainly defined by thought. It is during these years that we start asking students to learn and think in new ways. The goal of this stage is for students to start to form a cohesive worldview that supports a love of truth, goodness, and beauty.
To accomplish this, our classroom techniques change significantly. Because students have learned to promote order instead of chaos by following all the rules, we can start to entrust them with more responsibility in this stage to exercise good judgment in their classes. Students participate in discussions in which they directly address each other, instead of having only a question-and-answer interaction with the teacher. They are also responsible for more preparatory reading and thinking before class. At this point, our students have a firm grasp of the English language, so they are ready to take on the study of the great works of the literary canon and primary sources from the great minds of history. In all of this, the goal is to understand and critique the ideas and arguments of the authors they read. They also begin to formally study the Bible instead of just memorizing scripture. They learn how to interpret the Bible and begin to encounter and think about the great truths of scripture through hermeneutics and theology. In science, Logic stage students continue to study God’s creation, but they do so with much more analytical thought now. They can now actually apply the steps of the scientific method song that they learned back in the Grammar stage, and they can use those steps to discover for themselves the laws and principles which govern the universe and the intricacies of the creation that they have learned to love. Most importantly, they begin the study of informal and formal logic and debate. This helps them develop the critical analysis and discussion tools they need to engage in the thinking work that the logic stage requires.
Logic stage students are perfectly suited to this kind of learning during these years of their lives. They are ready to take the reins of their own education more and more. They come home with more questions to talk through even after hours of discussion with their tutors and peers in class! They need wise adults in their lives to be sounding boards for their ideas and thoughts because they are at a critical time in their lives when they are forming their worldview—one which we hope, by the grace of God, will be one that not only reveres the things that God loves, but one that can rationally defend and support that love as well.
THE RHETORIC STAGE: Speak well
After several years of critical analyses, debates, and discussions, classical students will begin to become aware of how they are influenced by the ideas they encounter. Likewise, they will become more aware of how they can influence others with their own ideas. At this point, students are ready to learn how to speak God’s truth to a broken world. We therefore challenge rhetoric stage students to complete the entire learning process with every new topic they encounter. They gather and absorb foundational information, they determine truth through critical analysis, they consciously think about how this truth changes or supports what they believe about the world, and then they attempt to communicate it well. The most important area of study in this stage is rhetoric, which helps students become articulate, winsome, and skillful communicators.
And, as in the other stages, rhetoric stage students are perfectly suited to this type of complete learning process. They are in the last years of high school, considering what they will pursue next, and what direction they want their lives to take. They are getting ready to engage with the world; all that we do in rhetoric level classes is designed to help these students speak thoughtfully and lovingly to a broken world.
Like the creatures of Narnia, we want to bear the image of our creator well. We do this when we love what God loves, when we use the intellects he has given us to honor him, and when we speak his truth to the world. Every Granite morning this school year we have dismissed chapel with this charge: “Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak.” Our prayer is that what we accomplish at Granite would equip our students to take those image-bearing actions not just into their classes this year, but into the world long after they graduate.
Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.