Does a Classical School Prepare for a STEM Career?

If you’re a parent considering whether to send your child to a private school, you’ve undoubtedly looked into the school’s curriculum and compared it to that of public schools.  One question that comes to most parents minds: How will this particular school impact my child’s future career path? And like most parents these days, you’ve probably also heard a lot about the push for students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Heritage Oak School, along with more than 250 other schools across the U.S., follow the Classical Christian method. This education movement has sprouted up across the country in the past 25 years and has grown exponentially from 10 schools back in 1993.  If you don’t know what the Classical method is all about and want to learn more, you can find more information here.  At first glance, parents who want their children to pursue STEM careers may be hesitant to send them to such a school because there may appear to be a lack of technical courses.  On the contrary though, a Classical Christian education is a great way to prepare students for an eventual specialty in a STEM field.

A Classical Christian education is designed to develop the whole student, and one of the main goals is to teach students to learn how to learn.  In other words, students gain the cognitive abilities that will enable them to succeed in learning a wide range of subjects, whether that be STEM or liberal arts.  This is accomplished through the Trivium, which seeks to harness children’s natural learning tendencies at different ages. For example, Logic students, or those of middle school age, naturally question authority and love a good argument.  The Logic phase channels this behavior by helping students to systematically formulate arguments based on sound reasoning and to analyze facts to explain why something is true or false.  

In a Classical Christian education, students will study source documents pertaining to a subject.  This is exactly the kind of thinking that benefits scientists and engineers. Unlike a textbook, where the author has largely formed an opinion in advance, source documents require a student to analyze the subject to form their own opinion.  In the same way, an engineer may have to make sense of large datasets to determine whether a design meets a specification. A scientist may have to take pieces of information from many different sources in order to validate a theory. In my own line of work, I interact with flight test engineers from many different disciplines to decide if a test flight was successful or if a system needs to be tweaked or redesigned.  The kind of reasoning skills required for these fields are the same skills that a Classical Christian education aims to develop.

Many STEM fields are filled with brilliant minds, but sometimes being brilliant in a particular subject is only part of the puzzle.  To be truly good in one’s field of study, a person must be able to effectively communicate. How many of us have met an engineer or scientist who is clearly smart in their field, but cannot hold a conversation in a social setting?  There’s a joke that goes something like this: “How do you tell if an engineer is an extrovert? Because he looks at your shoes when he talks to you.”

Being technically smart is simply not enough these days.  I would argue that in a STEM field, communication is one of the most important skills required.  A truly smart engineer or scientist should be able to present meaningful insight to the layperson without using a lot of technical jargon that the average person wouldn’t understand.  In the Rhetoric stage, one of the focus areas is to teach students to communicate eloquently and persuasively, skills that will benefit them whether they go on to study liberal arts or STEM.

So whatever your student’s interests, a Classical Christian education aims to form the foundation of their educational journey and enable them to succeed in a wide range of subjects.  Developing the “whole” student is a cornerstone of Classical Christian education, one that will help them reach their goals, no matter where those goals may take them.

For more reading, the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) has a great overview here.