To know God and to make Him known.

The Educational Gears of Content, Skills, and Ideas

“Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled…”        - Proverbs 24:3-4a


Webster defines wisdom as, “the right use or exercise of knowledge; the choice of laudable ends, and of the best means to accomplish them.” (Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language 1828.) By this definition we see that it is not enough to have knowledge; we must also understand the context, something of people, and the circumstances in order to apply that knowledge. Moreover, the phrases “right use” and “laudable ends” tell us there is a moral standard or ideological basis on which we maybest apply what we know.


How does this apply to educating?


At a classical education event I attended, three integrated components of education were described as:


Content — Learning information and facts.

Skills — Understanding how to use the content.

Ideas — Understanding, relating, and communicating the skills and content in order to apply them.


If we view these three components as gears which must mesh to make education effective, then each must be in place and synchronized with the other two. If one or two of these gears is missing, a student may gain knowledge without any true idea of how to apply it. Or, knowledge and application may be in place, but for self-serving ends rather than any ideological purpose, which ultimately proves shallow and unfulfilling.


See if you recognize any of the following models:


Content-ism Education consists of acquiring content, retaining content, and having the ability to recall the content as the primary organizing principle. The goal is to remember. Because this aspect of education is easy to measure and, therefore, more comfortable for administrators, it has become the typical model for modern educational institutions. While content is an important gear in the education mechanism, in isolation it merely produces a well-versed recall organism.


Teacher’s Role

Student’s Role

Common Product

When Isolated

Organize information!

Remember it!

A slave to whoever is doing the thinking







Skill-ism Education is the method of teaching content around a particular skill or trade for a career. The primary organizing principle is utility. This aspect of education is measurable in employment statistics. The goal is to “get a job” or to study only what is pragmatic and immediately useful and doesn’t lead to true understanding because skills are taught in isolation from all others. While trade skills are an essential gear in the education mechanism, when education finds its final culmination here, it often reduces a student’s identity to what he or she produces.


Teacher’s Role

Student’s Role

Common Product

When Isolated

Coach performance!

Do it!

A slave to a certain trade




Idea-ism Education has its framework built on the idea of inherent purpose and relationship in all knowledge. Therefore, while content is extremely important, it is learned in a context of universal ideas and ethical values. Such ideas and concepts breathe life into learning. In the paradigm of true idea-ism education, content and skills are recast and redefined as the tools of learning: grammar content, which is learning the language of a subject; and dialectic skills, which is learning how to apply knowledge across many different, but interconnected disciplines.


Sound familiar? Idea-ism education is synonymous with classical education. Unlike the reductionist approaches of modern content-ism and skill-ism education, classical education redefines and reorders content and skills into proper relationship with ideas, which equips a student for lifelong learning.





Teacher’s Role

Student’s Role

Common Product

When Synchronized

Guide through Q & A!

Think it!

A free person who perceives, integrates, and communicates appropriately









Tools of Learning

Moral Foundation

Skills of Learning

Appropriate Use as Governing Principle




Memorize and recite.

Elementary age




Think and relate.

Middle school and older




Integrate and communicate.

High school and older


Think about it! How are your educational gears working? Do you need to check the alignment?

CATEGORIES: Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14)

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