Friday, March 5, 2010

Christian Classical Education Defined

Wait! Before you all bury your heads in the sand and run screaming in the other direction, let’s look at what a classical education actually encompasses. I think you’ll discover that it’s not as scary as you thought it was and that it’s the type of education you really want your children to have by the time they graduate from your homeschool. “Classical education is about equipping children for the future with what has been successful in the past” (Classical and Christian Education, Gregg Strawbridge). In other words, it’s the antithesis of this new-fangled math that confounds all of us parents. It trains the mind to learn. It is academically rigorous, well-rounded, comprehensive, and can be used from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation and beyond. It emphasizes languages, structure, living books, the chronological study of history, and excellence. Classical education dispenses with the fluff to cut straight to the heart of the matter.

That all sounds good to me. I want my kids to have that kind of an education; what about y’all?

Take a deep breath. Here comes that ubiquitous word that seems sends people cowering: the trivium. It’s not that scary, really. The word trivium is even in my dictionary (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition), “A group of studies consisting of grammar, logic, and rhetoric and forming the lower division of the seven liberal arts in medieval universities” (and is completed by the quadrivium). These three stages are the grammar stage, which is roughly equivalent to the elementary ages; the dialectic stage, which is comparative to the middle school or junior high school years; and the rhetoric stage, which encompasses the high school years. Notice that these are stages, not cut-and-dried ages.

To borrow from Strawbridge again, these three stages suggest an approach to learning. The grammar stage approach emphasizes knowledge mastery and basic facts. This is the age when children delight in memorizing long lists of facts and then spouting them off at every opportunity. Classical education provides children with information (Latin vocabulary words, history dates, spelling words, scientific facts, etc.) to memorize that they can pull out of their memory banks later when they are trying to synthesize what they know.

The dialectic or logic stage teaches preteens to do well what they naturally want to do at that age anyway: argue. The approaches utilized during this stage are principle comprehension and the capacity to reason. Classical education helps children to think more analytically and logically. Students are taught to evaluate statements for logic and truth.

The rhetoric stage approach emphasizes expression and application. Classical education here seeks to teach students to take all of the facts that they learned during the grammar stage and to synthesize them, make sense out of them (the logic stage), and to present them in a pleasing, sensible format. Teens learn to form opinions intelligently.

Dorothy Sayers, in her epic 1947 essay The Lost Tools of Learning, laments the loss of good education in public schools. I am quite sure that the overall quality of public school educations has not improved in the sixty plus years since then. The lost tools are the subjects that build a solid, educational foundation.

These days, people are all about handing the school reins over to the children. I’ve overheard comments such as, “Well, they’ll be more into school if they get to study whatever they want.” Nonsense! How can children decide what they need to study when they don’t even know what they need to know? If it were up to my girls, there would not be a single math textbook in our house. One can’t get by in the world without knowing some basic math facts (although I have my doubts about the necessity of Algebra 2!). Many questions and areas of study require systematic instruction. That just doesn’t happen when one skips from topic to topic. History happened chronologically; doesn’t it make sense to study it chronologically? How else would one know whether the Civil War happened before or after the Spanish-American War?

So, how does an education go from being simply classical to being Christian classical? It studies the Bible and its history right along with the history of ancient Rome and ancient Greece. It uses the Bible as its foundation for truth. It forms its worldview from a biblical basis.

All of this makes sense to me. Does it make sense to you? Let me know your thoughts, please!

Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”