Classical Christian Liberal Arts Education at PHC
Despite the success of homeschoolers and classical Christian
schools, few Christian colleges have taken an active part in
this educational reform movement. Patrick Henry College
was founded specifically to serve the best and the brightest
of Christian homeschooled young people. Thus, the classical
liberal arts—with a strong Biblical foundation—is at the heart
of PHC’s educational philosophy.
PHC has a rigorous and extensive core curriculum of 63 credits
plus intermediate foreign language proficiency. The University
of Chicago, which is famed for its liberal arts core, only has
45. The National Endowment for the Humanities, in a project
designed to promote liberal education, proposed 50.
The PHC core embraces all seven of the classic liberal arts:
grammar (Research and writing; intermediate foreign language
proficiency1), courses in logic, rhetoric, mathematics, geometry,
music, and science (with biology and physics taking the place
of the ancient “astronomy”).
In addition, PHC requires two courses in the history of the
United States, and two courses in the history of the Western
World, two Western Literature courses, two courses in the
theology of the Bible, Principles of Biblical Reasoning,
philosophy, Constitutional Law, economics, and two courses in
The classical liberal arts, of course, is not just a sequence of
courses, but a conceptual framework and a methodology. The
seven liberal arts cultivate mastery of language (grammar),
analysis (logic), communication (rhetoric), aesthetics (music),
numbers (mathematics), spatial relations (geometry), and
empirics (astronomy) (Veith & Kern, 2001, pp. 11-16). Thus,
other courses in a variety of subjects can contribute to this
breadth of education.
The liberal arts stress content, the imitation of excellence, the
pursuit of knowledge that is valuable in itself, and the exercise
of the whole range of talents that God has given. The liberal
arts curriculum is broad in scope, but its parts are integrated
with each other, as students explore the connectedness of all the
The core curriculum embraces the whole range of the content
areas, as classified according to the “Natural Sciences” (biology,
physics, philosophy), the “Moral Sciences” (history, law, the
humanities), and the “Theological Sciences” (the Bible, theology,
and the undergirding of every course in Christian truth).
The foundational liberal arts are the Trivium of grammar,
logic, and rhetoric. These have to do with mastering language.
Grammar is about exploring the structure, rules, vocabulary,
and conventions by which language operates. Logic has to do
with using the mind to analyze and discover truth, as well as
to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Rhetoric is the art
of effective communication that persuades others, and is thus a
key to cultural influence.
1) Latin and Greek have, historically, been touchstones of classical learning and these are taught on
campus; in some programs, PHC accepts other foreign languages as meeting the core requirement.
Grammar has to do with basic knowledge; Logic with
understanding; Rhetoric with creative personal application.
The Trivium is a particularly powerful concept, in that every
subject can be said to have its grammar (the foundational facts,
rules, and information), its logic (the thinking required for
understanding), and its rhetoric (its original application). In
fact, the Trivium’s emphasis on knowledge, understanding,
and application is a direct parallel to Bloom’s Taxonomy, so
that an ancient concept of education is confirmed by modern
educational psychology. Each part of the Trivium has its
appropriate method of learning: grammar by lecture, reading,
and practice; logic by dialectic (that is, Socratic questions
and discussion); and rhetoric by student performance and
application (Joseph, 2002).
At Patrick Henry, classes tend to be heavily oriented to reading
(often of the “great books” in the field) (grammar), discussion
(logic), and student projects (rhetoric). PHC’s emphasis on
Apprenticeship (specifically, the internship program) exemplifies
the rhetorical dimension of classical education, and it also follows
the model of how classical universities prepared young people for
their professions, giving them a rigorous grounding in the liberal
arts and then sending them out to practice their craft under a
The classical liberal arts core curriculum is a true core. That is,
every student in every program takes every class. There is no
electivity in the core, which means that professors in the upper
level programs can know what their students have already been
exposed to—what books they have read, what subjects they
have studied, what skills they have developed—so that learning
can build on a common foundation.
One objection to having a core curriculum consisting of 63
credits plus intermediate foreign language proficiency would
be that it would seem to necessitate fewer courses in the major
program. Actually, though, since Patrick Henry—in another
unusual feature—has a restricted number of majors and
specialties, this is not necessarily the case.
A number of the core classes tie into the Government major:
A two-semester “Freedoms Foundations” sequence, studying
issues of government by discussing classic texts on the subject;
two semesters of American history; two semesters of European
history; Economics; and Constitutional Law do advance the
government program in crucial ways. The same holds true for
the liberal arts majors, with core classes directly impacting the
programs in literature, history, and liberal arts.
The upper division courses also employ a liberal arts
methodology. For example, the various Government tracks use the specialized “great books” that have shaped each discipline.
Writing at PHC is “across the curriculum,” with requirements
and formats codified in A Handbook for Research and Writing, a
college compilation that is taught in the first Freshman writing
course and serves as a reference for all courses, including the
upper division classes.
Another element of the classical liberal arts, according to
Littlejohn and Evans (2006), is a particular “ethos,” which
they describe as “the essence or the ‘feel’ of the school as a
community of faith and learning” (p. 53).
Ethos is the inarticulate expression of what the community
values. It includes the quality of the relationships within
the school, the traditions, the professional comportment,
the approach to classroom management, the out-of-class
decorum, the aesthetic personality of the school reflected
in the student and faculty dress codes, the visual and
auditory imagery, and the physical plant itself. And ethos is
interfused with the academic culture including curriculum,
pedagogy, faculty preparation, and student learning. Ethos
is the way in which the school expresses (or doesn’t) truth,
goodness, and beauty through the experiences of every
person who enters our halls (pp. 53-54).
I found it difficult to locate a simple and basic list of majors offered, but gleaned the following: Classical Liberal Arts, CLA Music Track, History, Literature. Gov't.Dep't has these major "tracks,": Am. Politics and Policy, Int'l Politics and Policy, Political Theory, strategic Intelligence, Journalism;
They offer Russian, Latin, and Greek and numerous internships. It's really impressive and very extensive what is offered --the listing of all the courses. It looks to me like you don't major in science there, but have required science and lab courses same as any liberal arts college plus Bible and theology courses.
I'm impressed with a school that focuses on thinking, debating, rhetoric, logic, writing, general classical knowledge, for use in impacting the world, possibly at the level of the decision-makers and gov't leaders.
"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life."--the Bible