There is now research which demonstrates the superiority of classical Christian education by almost any standard – academic, social, spiritual, psychological – to alternatives.
The Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame has been commissioned by the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) to research their effectiveness. Notre Dame researchers, incorporating data from the largest Cardus education survey, studied thousands of former students between the ages of 24 and 42.
They had been educated in six categories of schools: public, private secular, Catholic, evangelical Christian, home religious and ACCS (classical Christian).
The study then compared graduates in terms of life choices, preparation, attitudes, values, opinions and practices. The research focused on how these adults were prepared for college and a career; their outlook on life; their Christian practices; their Christian life; their conservatism; their ability to think independently; and their engagement with society as a whole.
The findings were amazing. Those who received a classical Christian education surpassed their peers in virtually every category, often by an order of magnitude. See the results on This site. Read the full study, titled A Good Soil: A Comparative Study of the Life Outcomes of CASC Alumni.
Just to give you a few examples, as far as academics are concerned, classically trained students got the highest test scores; almost 90% felt well prepared for college; and 55% obtained mostly A’s at university. Among public school graduates, about 50% felt well prepared and 35% earned A’s. Home-schooled students came second behind ACCS students for A’s, at 45%, and yet only 60% felt well prepared, suggesting that they lacked confidence. Evangelical schools even followed public schools in the A’s, with just over 30%.
This study will also be instructive for homeschoolers and evangelical schools. All Christian alternatives have worked well in transmitting the faith, although the classic approach has been the most effective (90% of ACCS graduates attend church at least three times per month; about 70% home-schooled and evangelical graduates do). Catholic schools followed public schools fairly closely, except that they were more effective in most measures.
Classically educated people have shown strong results in sticking to Orthodox Christian theology and moral beliefs. They also get the highest score for their willingness to act when they see injustice.
What struck me most, however, was the data on “life prospects”; that is, for their general happiness and mental health. Formally educated adults scored significantly higher than everyone else in gratitude, hope, feeling life is in control, and being able to cope with suffering. They also had more friends, with almost 90% reporting having more than three close friends, far surpassing private secular prep schools, with a second place at 50%.
Why would classical education help with this sort of thing? My former student Andrew Kern, with whom I wrote Classical education [paid link] This is the one who told me about this study during a discussion on Zoom that we had with people in Finland who wanted to start a classical school. He said classical learning teaches “right-ordered thinking,” so there is a connection with “right-ordered mind” which is essential for mental health.
Here is Andrew’s “elevator speech” explaining what this approach entails: “Classical Christian education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nurturing the soul with truth, goodness and beauty by means of seven liberal arts so that the student is better able to know, glorify and enjoy God.
here is Description of ACCS of what they do: “Classical Christian Education (CCE) is a proven educational system that establishes a biblical worldview (called Paideia), incorporates methods based on the natural phases of student development, cultivates the 7 Christian virtues, trains students to reason through the Trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric) and interacts with the great historical books. (The 7 Christian virtues refer to the “natural virtues” of the ancient world – justice, self-control, courage and wisdom – plus the “spiritual virtues” of Christianity: faith, hope and love.)
The Association of Classical Christian Schools, the first to bring back formal education in the 1990s, has been around long enough to have trained some 50,000 students in more than 300 schools, providing them with a large sample of former adults to study. But there are also other classical school networks, such as the Society for classical learning. Andrew Kern operates the Circe Institute, which offers resources, teacher training, and other support for schools looking to go classic.
I would also like to highlight the Classical Lutheran Education Consortium, an association of Lutheran parish schools and home students who follow this approach.
I wish the ACCS study had created the category of classic Christian homeschoolers, which are plentiful, with a large number of online programs and programs including Lutheran education. Wittenberg Academy.
I’m not sure how the ACCS data applies to these other formal education companies. The ACCS has been doing this for a long time, while many others are newer. Not all students benefited from the entire K-12 program.
But still, these results are significant. Those who want to solve the glaring problems of education in this country – including experts who say “follow the science” and educators who demand “research-based programs” – would do well to consider mainstream education.