Over the past 12 years of having children in a classical christian school, as well as homeschooling classically, I have learned more than I ever learned in school myself. A large reason for this is because I was (and likely most of you!) raised in an educational philosophy of modern educational reform. In other words, the educational system we all know of during approximately the last 100 years, when classical education shifted to a “progressive” model. It is precisely our own “progressive” educations that make us think of the classical approach as novel or foreign. I have had so many moms frustrated with their child’s education lately asking about homeschooling, or classical education in general that I thought I would try and summarize here what a classical education really is.
So what IS Classical Education or The Classical Tradition?
That is a very difficult question to summarize in an elevator type explanation. There are some great men who are part of the classical education revival such as Dr Christopher Perrin of Classical Academic Press
or Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute
, who can give a short answer such as “the cultivation of the human soul reflecting on truth, goodness and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts”, or “the unfolding and cultivation of a human being or the soul that becomes the best version of himself”. They will tell you however, that there is so much more to it than that. Education IS to become fully human.
I can try and share from my own experience what it has meant to my family and how it has educated us – mind, body and soul. It has been such a blessing to us, that I want it to be a blessing to you too. Our kids have developed a love for literature and the natural world because of this pedagogy (method and practice of teaching). When I asked my three girls what they thought the most beneficial, most enjoyable, or favorite part of being classically educated was, they all answered the same thing – developing a love of learning. My oldest college girl added being able to speak in front of any size crowd for any length of time and be perfectly comfortable doing so.
What is a classical education?
– it is simple, yet profound
– it is to teach children in the natural ways they want to be taught
– it is an ancient traditional approach to education
– it cultivates a life of learning steeped in wonder and curiosity
– it views the world as a living museum that we are to be in awe of
– it is a constant quest to find truth, goodness and beauty
– it is a cultivation in wonder
– it is to love that which is lovely
-it is equipping a child for every good work
– it is the interconnection of all knowledge
– is is to be trained up to serve
– it is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue
– it teaches a child how to think
– it is learning how to learn
– it is the study of classical languages such as Greek or Latin
– it is joining the Great Conversation by reading the Great Books
– it is the seven liberal arts
– it is a traditional education handed down to us
– it is a rich and vigorous stewardship
– it orders its curriculum around different principles
– it confronts the challenge of communication, both written and spoken so as not to conform to the spirit of the age
Dr. Perrin describes Classical Education in a wonderful analogy of stepping into something as grand as the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It is something so large, so multi-faceted, so beautiful and all encompassing, with so many entry portals, so many functions to serve and with an abundance of perspectives, that it is simply bigger than something we can grasp. It’s like learning a new culture – classical education is an ongoing adventure of discovery.
The classical pedagogy was started by Greeks and Romans by the seven liberal arts as a means to instill wisdom, virtue and elegance. The seven liberal arts were taught in two groups, the trivium (meaning three ways) and the quadrivium (four ways). The trivium consists of: grammar, dialectic and rhetoric – these three stages draw on the nature of a child as she grows.
Grammar Stage – (typically grades 1-4) The stage when a child naturally wants to absorb knowledge and facts, loves memorization, rules of phonics, spelling, grammar, foreign language, mathematics, history, literature, facts about plants, animals, etc. These are the years when the building blocks are laid for all that lies ahead. It is the time to absorb facts.
Dialectic (or Logic) Stage – (typically grades 5-8) The stage when a child naturally starts to become less interested in acquiring facts and instead begins to question the “why” of things, she becomes interested in cause and effect, how different fields of knowledge connect, and to the way facts connect to make a framework for logical thinking. She delights in pointing out fallacies and she is naturally argumentative, this is the time to teach her to argue well.
Rhetoric Stage – (typically grades 9-12) This stage builds on the first two. The high school student learns to write and speak persuasively, confidently, forcefully and eloquently. The student applies the logic learned in the logic years to the foundational facts learned in the grammar stage to express her conclusions in a clear and concise form of communication when they are naturally yearning to express themselves. These are also the years the student begins to specialize in the fields of study that interest them. These are the prime years for art camps, apprenticeships, foreign travel and perhaps some college level courses or other specialized training.
A classical education is language focused. The mind must first be supplied with facts, then given logical tools for organizing those facts, and then finally being equipped to express those conclusions.
The quadrivium consists of: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. It is the education of a whole person, not just the calculating intellect. Classical education is based on the tried and true methods of a liberal arts education invented by some of the greatest minds in human history such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Christ, Augustine, Aquinas, C.S. Lewis. It rises above the ever dumbing-down and politically correct education offered today in most schools. It is an education that is precious
– because our children are precious
. A child is not a vessel to be filled, but rather wood to be ignited. She must be taught personally, in relationship. Classical education is filled to the brim with rich literature.
A classical education takes history as its organizing outline, beginning with the ancients and moving forward to the modern in history, science, literature, art and music. It typically has a 12 year study of history in four year repeating cycles – Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times.
Another analogy that Dr. Perrin shares regarding classical education is that of some of the oldest roman roads – roads that are still in existence and used today. Returning to the classical methods is much like walking on those roman roads. So many have walked before us, and we can still walk that path today. I walked those ancient Roman roads with my first daughter the year she completed her own classical education. Wow – that is an experience that is hard to put into words. Ironically – so is seeing a child who has been classically educated grow into a well-educated life long learner of the true, good and beautiful. A child who can eloquently and persuasively present ideas of wisdom and virtue, one who is a lover of classic literature and a confident communicator, one who knows what she believes and why, one is humble in her knowledge and seeks to glorify God and defend her faith flawlessly, is one who has been classically educated. Seeing your daughter buy a copy of Dante in Italian while visiting Rome speaks for itself.
With the severely lacking state of the educational system of today, I am so passionate about renewing the classical tradition of education. It will take a great awakening of so many to see how fundamentally flawed our current system is, that teaches against the nature of a child, and want to jump into classical education and embrace it fully. Classical education was lost 2-3 generations ago, and it will likely take 2-3 generations to rebuild. I feel classical education is a call to return to being makers of culture, instead of embracing every passing whim and floating along on the breeze of whatever is currently popular in education right now.
To develop educational virtue, love and humility must be present in a classical education. To love truth, goodness and beauty is to love God, for HE IS truth, goodness and the source of all things beautiful. Humility comes from being in the presence of something great – something much greater than ourselves – that is the presence of God.
” A wise man is always more aware of his lack of wisdom, than the possession of it. ” Confucius
“Education is simply the soul of a society, as it passes from one generation to another.” Chesterton
Understanding classical education is a journey, it is understanding that it is not necessarily about the curriculum choice, but in the way it is presented and the methods used. With that understanding, you can click here to see our curriculum of choice
for our 4th grade homeschooler.
If these educational methods make sense to you, and you want MORE for your children’s education, search out a classical school for your kids – or maybe even consider homeschooling. I know it’s not the best choice for everyone, but I firmly believe that a classical education – even if only one or two of the stages – is an education you won’t regret giving your children.