Doug Wilson and the Association of Christian Classical Schools

The Association of Christian Classical Schools is a national organization headquartered in Moscow, Idaho. It was founded by Douglas Wilson in 1994, and “provides accreditation for CCE [Classical Christian Education] schools” (see “Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson” and the Christianity Today September 2019 cover story “The Rise of the Bible-Teaching, Plato-Loving, Homeschool Elitists“).

At present (March 2021) there are over 300 schools listed in their nationwide directory. A number of colleges and businesses are listed as “affiliates” and number of prominent evangelical figures “stand with ACCS” in including Albert Mohler, Eric Metaxas, John Piper, and Rod Dreher, as well as ministries like the Nehemiah Institute, and Desiring God.

In 2002, Preston Jones, professor of history at John Brown University, published an article on classical Christian schools (“Christian Classical Learning” pp. 12–13). Jones noted Wilson’s role in the classical Christian education movement and the founding of ACCS, but suggested that “If the Christian classical schools movement is going to be taken seriously in the academic world in the long run, its members would probably do well to distance themselves from some of their current leaders.” He noted Wilson’s views on southern slavery, and the book Southern Slavery as it Was, co-authored by “a neo-Confederate Presbyterian minister and League of the South leader named J. Steven Wilkins.” This book, published by Wilson’s publishing house Canon Press, “maintains, among other things, that the antebellum South was, literally, a holy land and that slavery bred mutual respect between the races— indeed, that relations between blacks and whites were never better than in the South before the Civil War.”

Jones noted that “Wilkins has been a speaker at major conferences of the ACCS, and at their national conference in Memphis last June were featured the wares of a neo-Confederate vendor.” He did note that “most of the parents who send their children to schools affiliated with the ACCS aren’t aware of the nature of some of the leaders’ views.”

In 2016 ACCS was denied accreditation in the state of Tennessee specifically because of Doug Wilson and his views on race, slavery, and other issues (“Bill yanked after school group founder’s views on slavery, homosexuals, adultery revealed”). However, it appears that in 2019, Tennessee reversed course and granted accreditation to ACCS member schools (Tennessee HB1392).

In 2016, the current president, David Goodwin, tried to address some of the controversy surrounding Wilson and create some distance between the organization and its founder (“A Response to ‘Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson’”). Though Rachel Miller’s article explicitly references Wilson’s views on “theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, and sex,” Goodwin chose to sidestep these issues, referring only generally to the “theological debates that have involved Mr. Wilson” and noting that “Mr. Wilson certainly offers food for thought.”

Goodwin says that Wilson, “takes specific care not to exert influence on the ACCS.” However, it is interesting to note that:

  • Wilson is listed as an “Educator in Residence” at ACCS.
  • Wilson is featured as a plenary speaker every year at their national “Repairing the Ruins” conference (here’s the 2021 lineup; past and future speakers include Al Mohler, Rosaria Butterfield, and Joel Beeke)
  • Three out of their top five  recommended books are by Wilson, more than any other author on the page. 
  • If you wish to know “What is CCE [Classical Christian Education]?” and click “Read About It” one of Wilson’s books is considered “Foundational for new teachers and parents.”
  • Doug Wilson’s affection for the white-supremacist Robert Lewis Dabney is also reflected in ACCS book recommendations, which includes the Canon Press republication of Dabney’s “Secularized Education.” (For those needing to get caught up, here’s “What’s So Bad About R.L. Dabney?”). However, some might think “just because someone has bad ideas in one area (white supremacy) doesn’t mean they can’t have good ideas in another (education).” Unfortunately, Dabney’s views of education were thoroughly influenced by his white supremacy. Sean Michael Lucas notes in his biography of Dabney that after the Civil War, Dabney opposed public education and particularly the education of the formerly enslaved people of the south. He thought public education was “heretical” because of its “leveling impulse” because “God had ordained a hierarchy of superiors and inferiors.” He also objected “for fears of racial mixing” and opposed the philosophy that “claims to make the blacks equal, socially and politically, to the most respectable whites” (Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life, 182–86). It’s disturbing to see Dabney’s work on education recommended by the ACCS, though I’m sure this has been edited of any overtly racist sentiment before republishing.
  • Doug Wilson’s Omnibus curriculum is used in a number of ACCS schools (a quick search of of the school listing found schools from California, to Minnesota, to Missouri, to Maine using this curriculum). Consistent with Wilson’s views of southern slavery, the curriculum includes an assignment asking students to: “Write a letter to a friend in the North who thinks that all slaves are mistreated and beaten. Explain how your family treats your slaves well.” (Omnibus III).

Nearly twenty years after Preston Jones wondered if the Classical Christian Education movement might want to “distance themselves from some of their current leaders,” there are no signs of that happening. In fact, ACCS has become more and more mainstream and has found support from several prominent figures. Back in 2002, Jones assumed that Wilson’s views “aren’t widely taught in ACCS schools.” That may be true. Parents, however, may wish to do a little homework of their own, asking about the level of affiliation and influence of Doug Wilson before entrusting the formation of their children to an ACCS school.

(Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash)

Review: The Messianic Character of American Education

The Messianic Character of American Education by Rousas John Rushdoony

A presuppositional critique of the history of philosophy of education in America

This is a thick book: 400 pages, every one densely packed with names and philosophies of education covering the last 200 years in American education. This book appears on several reading lists (for example in Doug Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning), as a devastating critique of the philosophy of the American education system.

This book is “an historical and analytical study of the philosophies of education in state education in the United States.” (x) He starts out with a couple of chapters of historical introduction, stretching all the way back to Rome and then later Scholasticism, and explains how “the university gradually developed its concept of academic freedom, that is, an independent authority for reason and scholarship which made it responsible to none other, and its concept of the redemptive, authoritative and power-endowing nature of knowledge, of reason, of university and school.” (17)

He then jumps into the American history of the philosophy of education, and doesn’t come up for air until the end of the book. 21 of the 28 chapters are each devoted to a particular figure in this history, starting with Horace Mann, and including men like William Harris, Francis Parker, Wiliam James, G. Stanley Hall, and John Dewey.

Each chapter is heavy on original source quotes, so you can read for yourself the sort of language and philosophy that has shaped education in America. This is important, because if you couldn’t see it with your own eyes, you would be tempted to write Rushdoony off as a crackpot conspiracy theorist. His title “The Messianic Character,” put me on guard initially, that maybe he is taking this a little too far, but page after page, quote after quote, from figure after figure and eventually you cry out “Okay! I get it! your point is incontrovertible.”

This history of American education has been shaped by men and women who believed in the innate goodness of man, and his ability to reach utopia through education. They themselves use religious, messianic, salvation language when describing the process of education, specifically apart from the God of the Bible. When you see how these men were the professors of teacher’s colleges, and held positions in federal and state Education departments, you see how we have reached our present condition.

I appreciate the hardcore presuppositionalist reconstructionists for this: they boldly take on ungodly philosophies from the foundation up, and spare nothing in exposing them for what they really are. The Bahnsen/Stein debate is another classic example of this. While I don’t agree with the solution that they posit (theonomy, reconstructionism), their critiques are devastating and extremely helpful, and pave the way for a more truly Biblical solution. I want them on my demolition team, even if I don’t ask them to help me rebuild 🙂

One final note, Rushdoony is hard to read. His sentences are often tangled syntactical messes, and his paragraphs often extend for 3-4 pages in length. Here’s an example that I noted for it’s sheer convolutedness:

“In Idealism, God, however exalted in rhetoric, nevertheless, especially since Hegel, labors mightily merely to bring forth the new universal, man. In Horne, this strange “God” was still on the stage; in Dewey, having brought forth the child of destiny, man, this “God,” like a salmon whose life ends with spawning, faded quietly out of the picture.”

Dozens of names, dates, places, and quotes, combined with the difficult style of Rushdoony’s writing, makes this a laborious read. Nevertheless, if you want to understand the history of the philosophy of American education, this is the book to tackle, if you must!