KCA, The Seven Laws of Teaching and Common Core


A good school is a noble business, and as such, it warrants the utmost care in its development. Corporate structure, administration, facility, curriculum, fundraising, and marketing are all foundational elements our board has addressed as we prepare for our first school year. Of course, no educational institution is complete without students, to which end we will initiate monthly informational meetings with the New Year. We have sought diligently to secure a solid foundation for KCA, and thus have spread ourselves thin with many details. I say all this only to emphasize that we have not lost sight of the most important component. The heart of a school is its teachers.

Required reading for every KCA teacher will be John Milton Gregory’s The Seven Laws of Teaching. Written in 1886, the Illinois teacher lays out the laws that he has has concluded govern all teaching situations. These laws are:

  1. A teacher must be one who knows the lesson to be taught.

  2. A learner is one who attends with interest to the lesson given.

  3. The language used as a medium between teacher and learner must be common to both.

  4. The lesson to be learned must be explained in terms of truth already known by the learner.

  5. Teaching is arousing and uses the pupil’s mind to form in it a desired thought.

  6. Learning is thinking into one’s own understanding a new idea or truth.

  7. The test and proof of teaching done is in the review.

Though these laws seem obvious, there are important applications that stand out to me.

First of all, Gregory makes clear that these seven laws are “as fixed as the laws of circling planets or growing organisms”, a statement that rings of arrogance to our modern ears but is actually a good example of the classical perception of the logos, or truth. As one of the three pursuits of classical education (along with goodness and beauty), truth is absolute, an attribute that any law requires. Though a truth be debatable, it is never regarded as relative, or it ceases to be truth.

Secondly, Gregory regularly addresses the need for these laws to be applied in Sunday School. He makes clear that a Christian education is the foundation for any real education and must not be treated lightly. His emphasis upon biblical literacy is an excellent example of the classical approach to education. Until the 1900s, theology was regarded highly among the sciences.

Finally, all effective teaching takes place by leading learners to make their own discovery of the material in a manner that excites and inspires. This is often accomplished by asking questions rather than by simply stating facts. If a student can take ownership in the process of learning by drawing his own conclusions in a process carefully guarded and steered by a caring and knowledgeable teacher, then the “communication of knowledge” is most successful and permanent. For emphasis, Gregory points out that Jesus himself taught this way, alluding to Christ’s use of questions, parables and discipleship as He preached the Kingdom of Heaven.

During the Bush Presidency, I remember several conversations with friends about the failed policies of No Child Left Behind. “Children are not the same.” “They don’t learn the same way.” “You can’t force people to achieve to a certain level.” Today, the same logistical challenges face us under the policies of Common Core. Certainly as presented, Common Core looks like it addresses the dismal results of education in our country, by uniting funding, curriculum, institutions, and testing with (supposedly) higher standards. However, a reading of Gregory’s Seven Laws has helped me immensely in understanding why this will not, and cannot, work.

Teaching, must be done in a manner that builds upon an existing framework. It will sound cliché, but teaching must also be done in a manner that inspires. In both of these areas, our attempt at public education is greatly strained. Teachers face a huge battle as they are required to “teach to the test” to the neglect of truly educating on an individual level. One reality that makes this situation fatal is the fact that many, if not most, students are so heavily impacted by the decline of our culture that their educational needs are far more basic than what Common Core expects. Another point of pressure is that important matters like funding and career advancement are linked to the ability of teachers to perform at the level Common Core demands. Gregory addresses common mistakes that take place in relation to each law of teaching, and it is uncanny how many of these mistakes explain public education today.

It must be said that Knox Classical Academy will not be complying with Common Core. Our desire is to truly teach, and it doing so to truly teach truth. Though we take standards very seriously, we will make ourselves accountable, not to the State, but to the parents of our students and to the Word. John Milton Gregory’s The Seven Laws of Teaching will be an important tool as we seek to fulfill this commitment.