About Classical Education

What is Classical Education?

The concept of a classical education is complex and, therefore, can only be understood by examining its many different aspects. The word “classical” itself indicates that the methodology relates back to Ancient Greece and Rome, but the practice of this type of education is not at all ancient in that all of our founding fathers were educated in this manner. In fact, the educational model you see in schools today was born in 1920 during the Progressive Movement, when the goal for education was reduced from achieving wisdom and virtue to producing financially productive citizens. One way to understand a classical education is to compare it to the educational trends seen in schools today. Consider the following characteristics:

Current Educational Trends

  • Goal: produce financially productive citizens
  • A “whole language” approach to reading (emphasis on sight reading) is used.
  • Creative writing and self-expression are required at an early age.
  • Science instruction encompasses many subjects in a school year and is superficial in its depth of study.
  • Critical thinking skills are not taught; older students are only required to receive and regurgitate knowledge.
  • If God’s Word is included in the education, it is tacked on as a separate course rather than incorporated throughout the curricula.

Characteristics of a Classical Education

  • Goal: cultivate wisdom and virtue and equip student with the tools of learning
  • Phonetic decoding is emphasized when teaching reading in order to achieve higher literacy.
  • Students learn composition through examining structure and style and imitating the masters. Self-expression is only expected in later years when students have mastered the skills to accomplish this task.
  • History instruction focuses on Western Civilization and American history beginning at an early age so students are equipped with the knowledge they need in later years to think critically about the past.
  • Science includes the study of one subject at a time and is covered in-depth.
  • Students are taught the tools of critical thinking, which are used in all subjects.
  • God’s Word is incorporated into all subjects and discussions.

Not only does a classical education differ from a traditional education because of its underlying goal, but it also differs in structure in four specific ways. Classical Education follows a three-part progression.
Classical Education follows a four-year rotation.
Classical Education integrates subjects for greater learning.
Classical Education focuses on language, the building block for all subjects.

Classical Education follows a three-part progression.

Classical education is divided into three levels which follow the development of the child’s abilities. This progression is called the trivium and includes the stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

  • Grammar stage (K-4th Grade):
    • The name reflects that students are learning the building blocks or “grammar,” of all subject areas.
    • Information is very concrete, not abstract.
    • The focus is on memorization because the mind at this age is ready to absorb information and students find memorization fun. Students memorize the following:
      • Rules of phonics and spelling
      • Rules of grammar
      • Poetry
      • Vocabulary of foreign languages
      • Stories of history and literature
      • Facts of science
      • Math facts
    • Critical thinking skills are learned through both understanding the story-sequence of literary works and practicing the skill of narration, a verbal retelling (summarization) of information learned.
    • Language skills are learned through listening to read alouds and reciting poetry and excerpts of literary or historical pieces.
  • Logic stage (5th-8th Grade):
    • In addition to learning facts, students are expected to interconnect them in their mind in a logical framework.
    • The information studied in this stage becomes more abstract because students have matured and possess a greater capacity for conceptual thought, while at the same time they become more interested in understanding how and why events or processes have occurred.
    • Students are taught to apply logical skills to all subjects.
      • In writing the student is taught to understand paragraph construction and how to support a thesis statement.
      • In literature students are taught skills to analyze books, dramas, and poems.
      • In history, students study the cause and effects of historical events and increase their learning through comparison.
      • In science, students learn and practice the scientific method and make observations.
  • Rhetoric stage (High School):
    • Students are expected to study the principles of self-expression.
    • Students are expected to evaluate and analyze the arguments of others.
    • Students are expected to use the knowledge and skills they have honed thus far in order to develop and express their thoughts and opinions regarding the subjects they are studying and their areas of interest.

Classical education follows a four-year rotation.

The sequence of studying history chronologically in four-year rotations is repeated three times so the student builds on their previous understanding of a period with their new skills and understanding.

  • Studying history in a chronological manner allows students to make connections and understand cause and effect.
  • Delving into a time period and studying it consistently and thoroughly achieves greater understanding and retention of the material.

Classical education integrates subjects for greater learning.

  • Subjects are not studied in isolation.
  • History becomes the organizing outline for literature, composition, and cultural studies, which are studied in the context of the historical time period being studied.
  • Integration of subjects allows for less work at a higher level. For example, a speech for oral communication may be based on an essay prepared for English, or a book read for literature may also be the basis for Christian worldview questions.

Classical Education focuses on language, the building block for all subjects.

  • Language mastery, both written and verbal, produces effective communicators and leaders in their fields of study.
  • Latin as a language is emphasized and provides the following:
    • A strong basis for the study of ALL Romantic languages
    • Improved vocabulary and comprehension
    • A reinforcement of the knowledge of English grammar
    • An enhancement of the knowledge of science vocabulary

For more information on classical education, please refer to the following sources that were used as references for this summmation: