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Classical Education Homeschool Worship

The Common or Servile Arts in Classical Education

This is a slightly expanded version of the original Instagram post

I have been endeavoring to follow the liberal arts tradition in our homeschool. The liberal arts, which were named after the liber or the free people had all the luxury they can afford to study because they had the leisure of time. I had a number of questions wracking my brain: If the liberal arts were originally intended to educate the free people, does it mean that progressive education, which focuses on the utilitarian aspect of education, is to revert to the servile arts? Why settle to focus on technical skills to train students for jobs that have yet to be invented by the time they graduate, when you can retrieve and renew the intellectual skills of human flourishing that will prepare them to learn for themselves?

I had thought that perhaps the liberal arts wouldn’t be concerned with the practicus or practical work because the slaves or lower class citizens were left to handle common work with their hands. But this would render classical education unapproachable in our day, or worse, elitist.

In my meager effort to follow the classical tradition, I was left to wonder about the necessity of the servile arts and the role that it plays in education. If the liberal arts were not employed for the practical, how then do we incorporate work? This is where I realized that the classical tradition needs to be seen in the Christian world and life view, that is providing a marriage of work and worship through vocation. This calling is what makes man human, an embodied soul capable of reason, inclined to worship, and called to a purpose. Fulfilling our callings then is a way of following a liturgical order in our lives, as we were created to love and created to worship with our heads, hearts and hands, embodying the life-giving service to God and fellow men.

One time we were learning in history how life was not valued in the Greco-Roman world, particularly how women were maltreated. My daughter reckoned this is folly and recognized how the Gospel redeems or elevates the plight of women by calling them “sons” and giving them equal worth and inheritance by virtue of their adoption into God’s family. I was gobsmacked when I heard her think theologically about these things! We don’t cancel history in our home; we learn from it. We also work with our hands as our heads are engaged, and we offer our hearts to worship our Maker who created us with the ability to work and to perform. It is in this posture that we participate in handicrafts or life skills, providing tangible gifts and performing tasks in love to our neighbor. Therefore, common work is to be done for the common good and to the glory of God!

I’m thankful that our provider portrays portfolios as a celebration, remembering the big or little ways in which children grow by displaying what they have already known and made from day to day. Thus I think that Charlotte Mason humanizes and democratizes classical education.

So while my daughter’s handicraft remains imperfect, it is hers to call her own and she delights in it. May these practical work aptly prepare her to be an able keeper of her home one day.

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