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November 15, 2023

Dr. Schlect on Classical Education Today

“We are human beings. And so the whole project is about our shared humanity,” Dr. Christopher Schlect told me in a recent interview. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Schlect in his office at New Saint Andrews College. He was talking about the importance of studying the works of the humanities tradition. These texts are important because they reveal what it means to be human.

The discussion on these texts was part of a more extensive conversation with Dr. Schlect about the current state of classical Christian education. He described classical education as emerging from the early years of trying to survive to now being recognized as a part of the educational world. With this new status comes both opportunities and dangers. He mentioned two key areas he is watching as the movement grows: classical charter schools and identity politics influencing classical curriculum. 

Dr. Schlect is well-known in the classical Christian education movement (CCE). He has been working in CCE for over thirty years in various arenas: high school, college, education conferences, teacher training conferences, and more. Dr. Schlect has been a teacher at NSA since the early years. He was the first full-time faculty hire for the college. Currently at NSA, he is the Classical Christian Studies Program Director, Senior Fellow of History, and head of Humanities.

Over the last few months, Dr. Schlect has been the main speaker for a series of Administrator Summits sponsored by the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS). These summits were in Texas, Kansas, Tennessee, and Washington. Dr. Schlect spoke to administrators at these summits about strengthening their teachers to educate students better. 

In my conversation with Dr. Schlect, he discussed CCE beginning to work with a broader array of supporters. He said, “When people, who may or may not share our ideals, see value in it too, how do we navigate these relationships?” He explained that navigating these relationships is critical because they can either help or hinder the growth of classical education. He added, “We want some kind of relationship with various supporters because we want to have a positive influence and to be a light.” The key, then, is to maintain these relationships without losing the vision of CCE.

When people, who may or may not share our ideals, see value in it too, how do we navigate these relationships?

One example that Dr. Schlect talked about, where the vision of classical education is vulnerable, is classical charter schools. He said the teachers and administrators in these schools mean well and are trying to help the movement, but he is concerned about the government funding going into these schools. Dr. Schlect said he has a good relationship with teachers and administrators in classical charter schools, so when he gets the opportunity, he tries to foster conversations about his concerns that these schools receive government money. 

New Saint Andrews College is committed to not receiving government funds to support its program. This principle allows the college to protect its independence, primarily to maintain its mission: to graduate leaders who shape culture living faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Dr. Schlect says classical charter schools are controlled by government money. He specifically pointed out that because of government regulations, these schools cannot be explicitly Christian, so they have already lost the idea of CCE.

Dr. Schlect’s work for ACCS also includes chairing the ACCS accreditation commission. He also organizes ACCS panel discussions that feature scholars looking at critical topics in classical education. This year, the panel had a roundtable discussion about Dorothy Sayers’s essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Dr. Schlect said that he has started to prepare for next year’s panel about the canon of classical texts.  

One issue around classical texts that Dr. Schlect is watching is the discussion about expanding the list of classical texts. I asked him about how some educators want to include what have been called minority authors. He said he was deeply concerned about this issue, describing it as fraught with danger. 

Dr. Schlect shared an illustration from a high school class where he taught a lesson on Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He said in that class, in the front row, was sitting a Native American student. He said, “If I were to adopt today’s dogmas of critical theory, I would have to tell him: ‘Now, of course, you cannot identify with this. As a Native American, your experience is not represented by this black author.’ That’s how stupid it is.” 

He explained that the texts of the classical curriculum are fundamental to study because they reveal what people share in common: our humanity. These texts matter to everyone, not just a particular group marked by ethnicity, skin color, or class status. 

The texts of the classical curriculum are fundamental to study because they reveal what people share in common: our humanity.

He added, “I deeply care that we get this right, and there’s a battle to get this right. Part of it is that good people need to do a better job of thinking it through in order to ferret out the right from the wrong in it.” He explained that some might label him as “woke” because he includes a black author like Martin Luther King Jr. However, he is teaching this text because of its value in helping students understand history and rhetoric. But that is not a woke principle; that is just being a good teacher who wants students to learn from good writers. 

Dr. Schlect directs the Classical Christian Studies program at New Saint Andrews College. This program allows working professionals to dig deeper into the core works of the Western tradition. The master’s program guides students through these texts to help them master the key ideas and principles that have shaped the world. Find out more about these works and this program on the Classical Christian Studies page.