NAPLES, ITALY - JULY 22 2015: Ancient Roman fresco showing the baker Terentius Neo and his wife, from Pompeii, House of Terentius at the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

What is Classical Education and How Does It Really Work?

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The Question

As a classical educator, this is the question I’m asked most often. What is classical education?  When asked by traditional educators, this is accompanied by a quizzical, expectant look.  Depending on who you’re speaking with, the definition will change drastically.

The purpose of this blog is to explore classical education and to see how differently it’s taught by homeschoolers, co-op teachers, and in the classroom. It is meant to be a resource for all of the above to share and discover new and old resources, of which there are many.

The definition of classical education may change but the heart of the subject is similar to many groups.  Most people will agree that the classical approach to education is the trivium, comprised of three parts; the grammar stage, the dialectic stage, and the rhetoric stage.

Where It All Begins

The grammar stage features a bulk of memory work including people, places, and facts.  Dorothy Sayers, in her call for people to revisit (or revive) the classical approach in “The “The Lost Tools of Writing” calls this the “Poll-Parrot stage.”  Elementary age children tend to enjoy memory work and repeating it back.  Today’s children still enjoy this, although with attentions divided, it is becoming a lost art.  Latin vocabulary and endings, historical facts and dates, geography, English, and science facts are easily committed to memory at this stage.  In the future stages, these facts will be reference points for asking the why and the how.

Good Arguments

The Logic stage (or sometimes called the Dialectic stage), takes the facts and information of the grammar stage and asks how and why?  Students begin researching, writing, and presenting material to answer these questions relating to history, art, and literature.  Latin studies include more grammar, parsing, and translations. Most importantly, this is the stage when children naturally become more argumentative and therefore should be taught in formal logic and debate so they may reason well.

True Rhetoric

Finally, the Rhetoric stage incorporates all the skills used in the grammar and logic stage to present a thesis or premise and systematically defend their ideas in all subjects.  In this stage, students are creating their own work of art, whether it be poetry, essays, persuasive debate.  During this time, subjects overlap more than ever.  Math meets motion in physics. Writing and philosophy become oratory events. History, geography, literature and other subjects are contemplated, discussed and argued together.

Of course, this overly brief definition serves only to introduce classical education.  Most people would agree on these points.  The real trick is making it work in the modern day homeschools, independent study programs, and classical schools.  Over the next several weeks Classical Revival will feature articles and resources to give their own definition of classical education and show us how it’s done in their world.  How do you teach Classically?  I’d love to hear from you!

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