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What is Meant by a Classical Education

The Virtues of Truth, Beauty, And Goodness

Have you heard any home schooling friends talk about something called, Classical Conversations? Do you Classical education have a neighbor whose kids attend a classical Christian school? Does your nephew go to a classical charter school? You could be wondering, “What in the world does “classical” mean? As you hear your friends talk about the fruits of this approach, and how their children are enjoying learning and expressing themselves, well, you might be challenged to consider your options. An even better question is: “Is classical education something I should consider in my own approach to teaching?” I’m going to give you some foundational knowledge to help you to make a more informed decision.

There is much emphasis in a classical school on the ideas or virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness.@yesphonics Click to Tweet

Classical In General

A classical approach encompasses the intrinsic ideas of wisdom and virtue. In general, a classical approach to education teaches children how to be critical thinkers with everything they learn. The approach is methodical and intriguing for students and teachers. Teachers are encouraged to motivate their students in more interesting ways. Students learn by rote, chants, jingles, songs, timelines, memorization, map drawing, projects and ways to present them, and much more.

This type of education is not new by any means. Its roots are ancient, as far back as early Greece or even earlier. It’s gaining resurgence in the United States and even in other parts of the world. https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/424900/back-basics http://www.classicaldifference.com/light-of-the-nations/

By resurgence I mean, even in my small southwestern town of about 45,000 people, there is a classical Christian school that’s been going strong for over 15 years, a classical charter school opening its doors for academic year 2016-17, and one Classical Conversations group. There are at least five such groups in nearby Tucson and also a classical charter school boasting an enrollment of 550 students with expansion underway.

Classical education A liberal arts education in its truest sense; students learn how to read, write, and think well. Other typical studies include Latin (and often other languages) language arts, logic, rhetoric, literature, history, sciences, and mathematics. Also important in the curricula are art, music, and physical education–in as many forms as are available from the pool of people associated with the school.

An interesting note: classical Christian schools, which are private, do charge tuition, but often operate on shoe string budgets. However, they are able to provide a well-rounded superior education for their students because they operate on ideology and content rather than being driven by budget or basic government requirements. (Their outcomes do meet any federal requirements that come along.) I could write another blog just about the accomplishments, accolades, scholarships, and wonderful things that go on at the classical Christian school where I taught, but I won’t for staying on topic’s sake.

Classical in Specific for Wisdom’s Sake

As mentioned earlier, wisdom and virtue are the two main elements that make up a classical education. For wisdom’s sake, the trivium model is used. This model is easily understood in three stages: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These stages are defined broadly throughout an entire school career, (Grammar: K-5th or so, Logic: 6th-8th, Rhetoric: 9th-12th grades). Each subject can also be defined by having its own grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages as the subject is studied, broken into its parts, learned, applied, then reapplied in experiments or research and discovery.

Grammar Stage

The grammar stage is also known as the poll-parrot stage. This beginning phase is for filling young minds with learning how to read well, facts of all kinds in math, science, grammar, and writing. They also study and participate in music, art, and physical education. There are almost always extra things that go on too, such as volunteering in the community, participating in plays, science fairs, game days, sporting events to cheer, a robotics club when there is a volunteer at the helm, and field trips.Classical education

Logic Stage

Students are now prepared for the logic, also known as the dialectic, stage. At this juncture, students learn how to evaluate the facts they know; how to apply their knowledge to problem solving, and how to think more critically on a subject. From the beginning, students are exposed to great books (good literature), and will read, think, write, evaluate, and critique what they read.

Rhetoric Stage

The final stage is called: rhetoric. From http://www.classical-homeschooling.org/rhetoric/rhetoric.html “Rhetoric is a unique subject in that its very definition has been of great concern to rhetoricians from the earliest times. It is a word that, unfortunately, has become practically synonymous in our times with “false language” or “hot air.” However, in earlier times, rhetoric had noble connotations, such as “public discourse, civil and democratic speech and the expression of social values and purposes. Originally rhetoric was credited with the power to create and maintain civilized society.”

In the rhetoric stage, students learn the art of persuasion and how to dissect and discern what is being said and taught. Some classical schools, like the one in my town, require their seniors to do a research/thesis project, present their findings to an audience of invited guests where they must defend their position and take questions about it when they are finished. Their senior year is not the first time they are exposed to such research, writing, and speaking. They are required to do similar projects throughout their high school years.

Classical in Specific for Virtue’s Sake

There is much emphasis in a classical school on the ideas or virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness. People in general are held in high esteem. What we know as “the arts” are also held in high regard. Students are taught to know, appreciate, and act on truth, beauty, and goodness in learning, in the sciences, in the beauty of knowledge, in aesthetics, and in their treatment and respect of others. They are encouraged to take their learning elsewhere into the world: to the home, the workplace, to lectures, concerts, museums, theatres, and so forth. Watch this one hour tutorial on classical teaching. Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UJu6kwULbo (How to Teach Classically, When You are New to Classical Education)

Classical Conversations (CC)

classical education Classical Conversations is a way for home schoolers to get a great classical education. It is parents coming together to share in the work load, yet remaining in charge of their children’s education. This approach embodies a definite Christian world view with an added sense of community. Groups of children and parents come together once a week to learn from a teacher and from each other. The approach is systematic with everything provided in curricula and schedules. There is an abundant supply of information online for you to learn more, to see if there is a CC group near you, or how to start one. https://www.classicalconversations.com/what-classical-conversations

Modern Day Gleaning

There is a biblical concept called, gleaning. For instance, farmers would leave some corn or wheat in their fields rather than combing it off completely, so that the poor could glean or gather food for themselves. I call shopping at thrift stores and yard sales, modern day gleaning. This concept can be used in the context of the topic of classical education too. If you don’t want to take the time to learn a whole new mindset or way of teaching and learning, just glean from the ideas. Pick and choose what might be helpful to you and your students, and apply those things that will enhance their learning experience.

There is much more to say on the topic of classical education. I’m sure that you have enough to get you started if the subject has piqued your interest. I’ve compiled a short list of helpful books:

“The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home,” by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise

“The Well Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had,” by Susan Wise Bauer

“Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning,” by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans

“Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America,” by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Andrew Kern

photo credit: Hertz • Critical Making Course • Spring 2016 DESN211 • Emily Carr via photopin (license)

photo credit: edcampIS | Seattle | March 2012 via photopin (license)

photo credit: HMC / Teacher Maker Camp via photopin (license)

photo credit: When teaching children how to read, I think its equally important to teach them not to necessarily believe in everything they read via photopin (license)

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About Pam Fink

Far from the rolling hills of PA where Pam grew up and went to college, she now resides in sunny southern Arizona with her husband. Pam used her Bachelor’s in Elementary and Special Education as a starting point to teach her children at home until they went off to pursue careers and families, and then she taught in other capacities. For over 25 years this diversely talented woman has tutored students and mentored teachers and parents in the areas of reading, spelling, writing, teaching with a classical bent, and home schooling in general.