by Martin Cothran

The people closest to me know of my affinity for a good doughnut. My actual consumption has necessarily declined in recent years, but, curiously, the decline in my consumption of doughnuts has not affected my desire for them. It is one of those unfortunate realities of life.

The lady at the doughnut shop that I frequent (my Personal Doughnut Consultant) can tell you that I like two kinds of doughnuts: apple fritters and jelly doughnuts. And indeed, these two kinds of doughnuts constitute two major branches in the doughnut flowchart.

(There are doughnut purists who would say that these two kinds of doughnuts are not really doughnuts, since they don’t have a hole in the middle. We will ignore these nit-picky protests in order to make our philosophical point.)

My two favorite doughnuts are different for this reason: In an apple fritter, the apple is baked into the doughnut. (They are actually fried, rather than baked, but “baked into” just sounds better.) The apples are put into an apple fritter at the very beginning of the process, before it is placed in the fryer. As a result, the apple taste pervades every part of the doughnut.

In a jelly doughnut, however, the jelly is inserted after the doughnut has been fried. Many people don’t know this. I have never seen the syringe used to do this, but I’d imagine that it is quite large and would look rather frightening if I saw it being wielded by a nurse. However, I am assured by Official Doughnut Experts here in the Memoria Press office that it is not really a syringe, but a sort of nozzle that is used in this process. (We only talk about very important things in the office.)

Unlike the apple in an apple fritter, which is organically integrated into every part of the doughnut, the jelly in a jelly doughnut is, in a way, alien to the rest of the doughnut. The apple and the fritter are integrated, while the jelly and the rest of the doughnut are disintegrated.

In one’s daily doughnut-eating ritual, this distinction is, as they say, academic—it is a difference that doesn’t really make a difference. They both taste good, so they both serve their purpose. But in academics, the distinction matters very much.

In fact, this difference is the basis of an important distinction between two kinds of Christian education: the kind in which the Christianity is baked into the education, and the kind in which the Christianity is injected into it as an afterthought—the kind where the Christianity is organically distributed through every aspect of the education, and the kind in which the Christianity is present, but is not integrally related to the rest of the curriculum.

Sometimes people ask me what “Christian worldview program” I would recommend for their school. I don’t think they mean it this way, but this is really a jelly doughnut question. They are asking me (even though they don’t realize it) what flavor they should inject into their program of learning.

My answer is always the same: If you really have to have a separate “worldview program” in your curriculum, then you have the wrong kind of curriculum. You would only need to inject Christianity into your program if it wasn’t already baked into your curriculum. And if it is not already baked into your curriculum, then you have a problem far worse than a missing course.

Now in most of these cases, the school really doesn’t need such a program—they just think they do. And I should stipulate that there is nothing wrong with a worldview class per se. It might serve well in high school as a way to pull some of the threads together from previous courses, and possibly be the place for explicit instruction in Christian apologetics. But if the curriculum is constructed properly, such a class would be a luxury, not a necessity.

In a real classical Christian curriculum, you don’t have to inject anything at the end—certainly not Christianity. Christianity is already baked into it. The historical aspect of Christianity pervades your history program, your literature program, your science program, and your language arts program. And not necessarily in any kind of explicit way. In fact, much of it should be implicit. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, most of what we know we know through assumption rather than instruction.

I have heard the expression in classical education circles, “teaching Christianly.” I believe this expression comes from Harry Blamires’ book The Christian Mind, published some years ago. (This expression hits my ears wrong, but maybe that’s just me.) “Teaching Christianly” can be used in either the apple fritter sense or the jelly doughnut sense.

To sprinkle Bible verses throughout your math program, for example, is “teaching Christianly” in the jelly doughnut sense. It may make us feel good, but it really doesn’t do much to inculcate a Christian worldview or to make your program Christian.

This distinction—between baking Christianity into your curriculum rather than injecting it later, can be seen in all kinds of ways. I have had discussions with educators who ask how classical education is consistent with Christianity. This is another jelly doughnut question. It is like asking what an apple has to do with an apple fritter. It also betrays a lack of understanding of the history of Christian education, which was always entirely classical. Classical education was always Christian, at least from the late Roman period. If you went back a hundred years to any school in the Western world, you would encounter an education that was thoroughly classical and thoroughly Christian. There was no way to separate them.

You see this same thing in many school mottoes and mission statements. They have a jelly doughnut ring to them. When you see the expression “a classical and Christian education” [emphasis mine], there is an implication that these are two entirely different things. This is undoubtedly not the intention, but such phrasings seem to suggest a sort of dichotomy between the two: There is dough, and there is jelly, and the latter must be added into the former.

Let me give one more example of the prevalence of the Jelly Doughnut Education Fallacy. I once had a little exchange with someone about my Traditional Logic program. The person argued that, since another competing logic program had more Christian examples in it, it was therefore a more Christian program. The program they were defending was a program that was based on a modern system of logic that was developed by modern secular philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell, and which employed philosophical assumptions that were at odds with anything anyone would call a Christian worldview.

Was such a program more “Christian” than mine because it used more Bible quotes for examples? Only in a jelly doughnut world.

All of this, of course, isn’t to say that you don’t teach Christianity explicitly in your program. A Christian Studies or Bible course is absolutely essential in a Christian curriculum, both for reasons of teaching the fundamentals of the faith and for teaching the history of our civilization—a civilization that was once so thoroughly Christian that we called it “Christendom.” There is no disputing whether a Christian Studies or Bible course is Christian. If a Christian Studies course is not Christian, then it’s not a Christian Studies course, and any Bible course that isn’t biblical isn’t really a Bible course.

The apple fritter/jelly doughnut dichotomy is more relevant to those ostensibly non-religious courses in any education program—math, language arts, and the moral and natural sciences. It is these courses about which two important apple fritter questions must be asked: Does the content of these courses reveal a correct view of the portion of reality each purports to address? And does the pedagogy employed in teaching them reveal a correct view of the human person?

If our language arts and math courses do not familiarize our students with the fundamental linguistic and mathematical structure of the created cosmos and bring our students’ minds into conformity with it, if our history and literature courses do not acknowledge the underlying moral order of the world, or if our science courses are conducted in disregard of the underlying and inherent nature and purpose of this created order—then all the Christian flavoring we might later add will not salvage them. And even if we are doing these things, we must not undermine them through a disordered manner of teaching them. In order to teach order, you must do it in an orderly way.

A truly Christian education is not a secular education sprinkled with Christian truths. It is something very different from a secular education with a Christian flavor. It is an education that employs fundamental assumptions that underlie every subject. Grammar is a confrontation with the underlying order of Word; logic is the coming to terms with the underlying order of Reason; rhetoric is a bringing of the intellect, the will, and the imagination into alignment with Reality—each of which is a reflection of the divine in the world.

A classical Christian education does this implicitly. You don’t need to add anything.


Lisa Anstett · January 30, 2019 at 6:39 pm

Beautifully stated! I am working through why classical education needs to be Christian. Ancient philosophers were not Christians. Picked up The Great Tradition and trying to educate myself on important men and hoping to find the turning point. Frequent debate /discussion topic with people and I would like to back my passion for Classical Christian education with facts as to why Christianity within the liberal arts is important.

    Kimberly · February 19, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Hi Lisa, I also enjoyed this essay. I have been studying the history of the liberal arts as it relates to Christianity. I have collected a lot of quotes from prominent Christian theologians throughout history about the usefulness of the liberal arts for the glory of God. But as far as why Christianity needs to be within the liberal arts, I like best the Abolition of Man, in which Lewis makes the point that unless children are given truth, they are starved. “By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.” The truest truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ and to withhold that in education is really to starve children.

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