What are the Good, the True, and the Beautiful?

We live in an age of relativism. "Who are you to judge?" is common and effective retort to any sort of criticism. To state that there are transcendent, i.e., objective and unchanging standards of goodness, truth, and beauty can be offensive to many people. So be it. To teach a child about God is to teach him or her about the source of all goodness, truth, and beauty. The same holds true in reverse. To teach goodness, truth, and beauty is to teach God. God is the objective standard for all things.

A Christian school that teaches "to each his own" when it comes to goodness, truth, and beauty is not a Christian school at all. Indeed, we would contend that it is not even a school. The Greek philosopher Plato (certainly not a Christian; he lived 350 years before Christ) would have agreed. He instructed teachers to "impress upon [the student] that this just, and that unjust, one thing noble, another base, one holy, another unholy, and that his [duty] is to do this, and not do that." The whole of education is about teaching our students to make judgments according to a standard. That standard should be the best that has been thought, written, spoken-the good, the true, the beautiful.

Goodness

There is no such thing as a morally neutral or "value neutral" education. At Our Savior, no opportunity is missed to pass on the critical moral instruction all elementary students desire and need. We take seriously the Plato's instructions to educators:

[Students should be] furnished with works of good poets to read as they sit in class, and are made to learn them off by heart: here they meet with admonitions, many descriptions, and praises and eulogies of good men in times past, that the boy in envy may imitate them and yearn to become even as they.

Accordingly, we surround our students with examples of virtue. These examples (and sometimes their opposites) are presented constantly in the formal study of literature, history, and religion. Our students study the examples of the Ancient Greeks, heroes and villains of classic literature. They encounter the heroes of the Age of Exploration and the American Founding in history. The Bible, Plutarch, and Shakespeare all offer innumerable examples that are set before our students throughout their time at Our Savior. Moreover, these examples arise informally in the relationships between student and co-student, teacher and students. Of course, the exemplar of virtue is always set forth: Jesus Christ.

Truth

Our curriculum is built on what is true. The appropriate response to such a statement is usually, "Why wouldn't it be? Are you saying that there are schools with curriculums built on what is false?" Sadly, that is exactly what we are saying. Most modern education experts would declare sarcastically with Pontius Pilate, "Truth, what is truth?"

What is true comes from God because He is truth-whether it is math class, history, literature, logic, Latin, or religion. We teach what is true and we teach our students to imitate, love, and seek what is true. No desire is more important for a life-long learner to have.

That commitment to truth has many other implications. For example, it means that we will not sacrifice true achievement for a false sense of self-esteem. Every year we read about international test scores showing American kids flunking math and science but feeling great about it. Ignorance that feels great about itself is the worst sort of ignorance, and this is what our modern educational system seems to be giving us in spades!

True achievement requires a demanding and rigorous curriculum but it is not a call for grim faces in education. Our goal is to teach children to delight in the well-earned grade and not the undeserved "A." A seeker of the truth can do nothing else.

Beauty

How many times have you heard the cliché: "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and nodded your head or were even the one speaking the cliché. We all have, but the fact remains that it is a cliché that is simply not true. We have all seen beauty and we all know beauty. Again, to know beauty is to know God, as it is to know any transcendental thing.

We cultivate a sense and love of beauty in language, literature, music, physical education (movement of the body), and the visual arts. We do that by surrounding them with beautiful exemplars in literature, music, movement, and language. It may be King David, Monet, Beethoven, Shakespeare, or even Whitman. We teach them to imitate those exemplars and cultivate an appreciation for them.

Accordingly, teaching the good, the true, the beautiful means that we have integrated our curriculum with things that are excellent-the best of what has been thought, written, and spoken. We teach our students to know what is excellent, to imitate what is excellent, and to yearn for the excellent throughout the classical liberal arts education they receive at Our Savior. Knowing, imitating, and yearning for the good, the true, and the beautiful build the habits that lead them to possess those things and to know, imitate, and yearn for the God from whom these transcendent things flow.