Classical Education Simplified

Classical Education. Sounds kind of fancy, doesn’t it? After all, we usually associate the word classical with music that was written and performed by some of the most gifted composers and musicians in history. But what is classical education? Without going into the whole history of it (there are entire websites devoted to that), classical education is based upon educational values of Western Culture during the Middle Ages and Classical Period. The structure of Classical Education is found in the trivium, of which the three stages are grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Within the trivium, classical education focuses on the seven liberal arts of literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, history, art, and languages. Are you with me so far? I’ll break it down further so that you get a feel for what it looks like.

The grammar stage is the foundation, the first years of schooling, in which the student’s goal is to memorize facts. The rationale is that in the early years, the child is like a sponge, soaking up information, often without even trying. . Lines of poetry, phonics rules, math facts, foreign languages, the stories of history, facts from the world of science and many other things are committed to memory during the grammar stage. It may sound tedious or boring to some, but the young child’s mind is open and ready to receive information.

The second stage of classical education is the logic stage. Within this philosophy of education, sometime around the age of 9 or 10, maybe even 11, depending on the child, memorizing for the sake of it no longer appeals to the child. Now she wants to know ‘why’? It is no longer enough to learn that snow falls in winter. Now she wants to know why. What causes the seasons? How is the snow made?

The child in this stage looks for relationships between ideas, cause and effect, and seeks to find the logic behind concepts and phenomenon. The scientific method takes the place of simply exploring science. While still using hands-on activities, the child is able to work methodically to prove or disprove a hypothesis. All the facts that were memorized in the grammar stage are called upon within the logic stage and serve as tools as the child deepens his understanding of the world.

So far, in the first two stages of classical education, we have seen that the child learns the what, why and how of the concepts and ideas that have been presented to him. In the third stage, the rhetoric stage, the high-schooler/young adult draws upon the knowledge and experience gained in the grammar and logic stages. He now learns to articulate his conclusions and opinions with clarity and in his own unique style. Having a wealth of exposure to a variety of subject areas and disciplines throughout the classical education, the young adult begins to focus more closely on the subjects that she finds most interesting. With the foundation offered through classical education, the student is ready to move forward in the area she chooses.

Within the homeschool world, the most well-known authorities on classical homeschooling are Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Their book, The Well-Trained Mind, contains a wealth of information and an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about this philosophy. Some may find it overwhelming, but as with any resource, it should be used as a tool and not seen as an absolute. Always keep in mind the child in front of you. Use what works, toss the rest!