Classical School: Does SMA Fall into this Category?

School Updates

Classical School: Yes or No?

One of the frequent questions posed by parents is whether or not SMA is a classical school. Some want the answer to be “no,” as they don’t want some strange form of education for their children. They want us to be similar to the school down the street, just better. Other parents hope the answer is “yes,” as they believe a classical approach will ensure for their children acceptance at a good university that will lead to a good job.

So, what about San Marcos Academy? Are we a classical school?

Classical School: Some Background on the Term

To answer that question, I would first explain what the term classical means. The classical method is a lot more than Latin and old books. Classical learning dominated Medieval Europe and is the method that produced some of the greatest minds in history, including most of our Founding Fathers. In classical learning, students pass through three phases called the trivium. In elementary or “grammar” school, teachers focus on memorization, association, and classification. In middle school, they use prior knowledge to focus on developing logic throughout the curriculum. During high school, the trivium focuses on using the prior knowledge and skills to present arguments using rhetoric.

Now, you need to know that university education departments often lampoon the classical method as a backwards, hillbilly approach to educating children; they call it things like, “drill and kill,” or “sage on the stage.” They claim that the approach is opposed to modern research and best teaching practices. Their philosophy, called constructivism, became popular in the 1960’s and beyond. Today, virtually every public school holds to variations of this philosophy.

Constructivism is rooted in postmodern philosophy. It affirms that language is limited and socially constructed by the students’ culture. Correct knowledge cannot be communicated intact from teacher to learner. Students must contribute in an original sense toward building knowledge; thus, active learning is preferred to passive. Students are taught to deconstruct literature, rather than try to understand it intact and evaluate its truthfulness using sound principles of logic.

Classical school: Evaluating research through a Biblical worldview

Yet, because someone claims that a new strategy is “research-based” does not make it good. After all, whole language, new math, teaching to the test, and open classrooms were all supposedly “research-based” strategies. These and countless other such reforms have wound up in the dustbin of history. Today, seasoned educators are jaded and roll their eyes every time a presenter starts his sentence with, “research indicates . . . . ”

At the same time, there have been some major breakthroughs in brain research through the use of the functional-MRI, as well as other advanced technologies. So, SMA believes that to reject current discoveries simply because they are not a part of the “great conversation” of old books is misguided, as well. Jesus taught us in Matthew 13:52 that every scholar, “… is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

So, SMA implements the trivium and adopts classics into its curriculum. At the same time, as St. Tertullian famously said, “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” We believe that the Bible is ancient wisdom that far exceeds all other collected wisdom and serves as a measuring rod to every other supposed truth-claim. We are not simply a school that offers a couple of Bible courses. All of our teachers are professing Christians. They are evaluated each year on how well they can approach their subject matter through a lens of the Judeo-Christian worldview. That’s what we mean when we say the mission of SMA “is to educate young men and women within a nurturing community based upon Christian values.”

Classical school: Ensuring quality learning at SMA

We also adopt well-tested, valid, and reliable innovations in research. We integrate 21st century technology into the learning environment. We quantify student learning and implement good research practices. We do not, however, jump on every bandwagon that comes down the road from education departments and publishing houses. Because of our prudence, we attain maximum buy-in from our teachers and ensure quality improvement of learning for our students.

For more information about how we view research and these other subjects, I refer you to a satirical article I published several years ago along with the items listed below.

Sources and Notes:

Adler, M., Hutchins, R. (1952). Great Books of the Western World. [free]. Retrieved from

Archer, A. C. (2016). Constructivism and Christian teaching. Retrieved from

* Bryant, R. H. (2013). When is research, research. Retrieved from

Chadwick, C. (2016). Why I am not a constructivist. Retrieved from

Sayers, D. (1947). The lost tools of learning. Retrieved from

Note: This is the second in a series of short video blogs (vlogs) designed to connect current and prospective parents with the Academy staff in exploring various aspects of the “Academy Experience.” In this installment, our Associate Academic Dean, Dr. Brian Guenther,  discusses whether SMA should be considered a “classical” school.