There are several different schools of thought on what constitutes a classical approach to learning. One distinctive that they all have in common is an education that educates an entire person. A truly educated person will exercise wisdom, and this wisdom is cultivated by reading and sharing ideas from the great minds of the past. Such an education is not practical — in the sense that the objective is to prepare one for a job — but comprehensive in that the student will be adequately fitted as a whole person for any position he may seek in life. With that fundamental point of agreement, the different schools of thought diverge. How do we get there?
One group believes that for a learning approach to be considered classical it must seek to educate in the same way the Greeks and Romans did, studying the “classics” in their original Greek and Latin. Others who would call themselves classical educators simply mean that they read the “Great Books.” What has been termed the “neo-classical” group base their approach on the writings of Dorothy Sayers and her explanation of the trivium (or three stages of learning) that was in use in medieval times.
For our purposes, we will focus on the latter.
The framework of classical education, defined in this way, makes use of the three stages in which children (and adults) learn any subject, or trivium. In the Grammar Stage, the foundation of each discipline is laid. This is a time of gathering facts, being exposed to knowledge, and developing basic skills. The second stage is the Dialectic Stage in which the student learns to reason or apply the basic facts he has learned. In this stage logic is introduced. The student concentrates on the cause and effect, or the “why,” of a subject. The final stage of the trivium is the Rhetoric Stage in which the student learns to communicate what he knows about the subject at hand in the most convincing way.
As the popularity of classical education has grown among home educators over the last several years, there is an increasingly wide variety of support materials available. Most of these assist the parent in applying a classical model of education to their homeschool. These materials range in scope from a simple outline to a complete syllabus. There is also wide variety in the methods employed at each stage. For example, some lean toward the “drill and cram” in the grammar stage, while others advocate a more hands-on approach in the early years. Secular classical education studies Homer and Plato from a humanist point of view. In a Christian classical education, some will study these “classical” topics from a Christian worldview, while others will choose to avoid them all together. Finally, you will find the age grouping for each stage varies with the source. As a general guideline, the Grammar stage covers ages 7-11, Dialectic — ages 12-15, and Rhetoric — ages 16-18.
Whether or not you decide to strictly follow the classical method of learning, there are many valuable ideas to borrow.
Teach them HOW to learn. One of the early proponents of returning to a classical education was Dorothy Sayers who wrote an essay entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” She advocated teaching our children how to learn so that they would have the tools of learning at hand enabling them to teach themselves any subject.
- The Lost Tools of Learning
The complete text of the essay by Dorothy Sayers.
Latin. We run across Latin often in our daily lives, but rarely do we realize it. Depending on your source, Latin comprises anywhere from 50% to 70% of our English language. Latin is also used extensively in the arts and sciences. Latin was the foundation of the study of grammar. Some would argue that grammar makes no sense without it! Studying Latin grammar may be all of the grammar you need. Latin is logical and systematic, training the mind. For these reasons and others, it can be a valuable addition to any learning approach.
Logic. During the Dialectic stage, students engaged in a classical education begin a study of logic. Logic augments studies in math and science. Through logic we can also learn how to make well-reasoned arguments and discover fallacies in others’ arguments. There are many different ways to study logic, from a full-blown logic course to other, more natural ways, but the point of the task remains the same: to encourage our children to think through big ideas, understand them, and measure them against Scripture — bringing every thought into captivity to Christ.
Speaking and debate. One of the communication skills that is often overlooked in homeschooling is public speaking. Our children may have many opportunities to speak to others, whether as advocates for homeschooling, in whatever career path they choose, or when called to defend their faith. A polished presentation cannot be overestimated when it comes to effective communication skills.
- Classical Education Comes Home
“Christian classical education is not neutral. It takes definite philosophical sides. And all that is old is not necessarily good. Not only should classical material be read through the critical eyes of a Christian, but care should be taken to ensure that our students read more material that is positive and reinforces our views rather than competing views.” Interesting look at classical education from Michael Farris, former president of HSLDA.
- Definition for Classical Education
“We pursue a narrower definition of ‘Classical Education.’ We are more interested in teaching by the same educational principles and toward the same educational goals as the ancients than in teaching the same literature as the ancients. We do not necessarily pursue the Classical materials -– Homer and Plato, or Caesar and Cicero. Instead, we necessarily pursue the Classical Model of Child Development and the Classical Method for Teaching Subjects. We call this the Applied Trivium.” Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn from TriviumPursuit.
- Homeschooling with the Trivium E-Mail List
For “Christian homeschooling families interested in discussing the Trivium and how it can be applied to homeschooling.” Moderated by the Bluedorns.
- The Well-Trained Mind
This book is a parent’s guide to bringing an “academically rigorous, comprehensive education –- a classical education” home. The philosophy behind a classical education, detailed guidelines in curriculum, scheduling and resources are very clearly explained making it easy to implement.
- Why Our Model of Classical Education May Look Different
“…Classical schools and online recommendations while agreeing on the basics of trivium learning differ from each other in the practical application of this classical pattern to learning.” Susan Wise Bauer reminds us that there is more than one way to implement any method in our home!