WHY CLASSICAL EDUCATION?
"The goal of classical education is to teach our children to think, to teach them how to learn, to teach them how to navigate the flood of information that they will be confronted with for the rest of their lives."
Classical Education is a buzzword that you hear everywhere. It has come to have somewhat of a broad meaning and interpretation. When we use it at HCA, we are referring to Classical Education as rediscovered by Dorothy Sayers in her paper, The Lost Tools of Learning. It is called Classical, because this type of education harkens back to systems of thought and learning that have been used for hundreds of years, first recognized by the ancient Greeks, and then brought into common usage during Medieval times. It was the only system of education that was used in Western culture until the late 1800s. All public education, and most private education, in the United States is based on a different system of education, one that has only been around a few decades, and that is constantly changing. It has yet to be proven to be successful in creating well-educated, critically thinking, independent citizens. Quite the opposite.
A good definition of Classical Christian Education is as follows: "a traditional approach to education rooted in western civilization and culture, developed by the church, grounded in piety and governed by theology, employing the historic curriculum and pedagogy of the seven liberal arts in order to cultivate men and women characterized by wisdom, virtue, and eloquence." (Introduction to Classical Education with Dr. Christopher Perrin)
Classical education is a system of learning that is based on three stages: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric - The Trivium.
Grammar does not refer here to language, but rather the building blocks of any learning. Learning the grammar of any subject means understanding its terms and meanings. The grammar of Math, for example, includes understanding numerals and how they relate to one another. The grammar of Science includes understanding some basic concepts about genus and species and the definitions of certain scientific words. Classical education proposes that before you can truly learn any subject, you must learn these basic building blocks.
The Logic of learning includes learning the "why" and "how" of a topic. This involves learning relationships between terms and the more in-depth study of why things are the way they are. This has traditionally included the Five Common Topics that were introduced originally by Aristotle. Topic is a Greek work that actually means PLACE. So a Topic is place we go to put together ideas or thoughts. And the Five Common Topics are five places we can go to generate information and ideas to create a cohesive thought. These include definition, comparison, circumstance, relationship, and authority. These are useful in all areas of study.
Rhetoric, finally, is the ability to present knowledge in a winsome and cohesive manner. By this stage of learning, you have mastered the basics, understood the relationships, and fully grasped the topic that you are exploring. Rhetoric teaches you to present this to someone else, to be able to teach another person what you know in a beautiful and persuasive manner. The study of Rhetoric should always include the Five Canons of Rhetoric that were explained by Cicero. These are invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.
In her famous paper, Dorothy Sayers reminded us of this style of education that had begun to be replaced by much less effective methods. Importantly, she also related these three stages of learning to three stages of childhood development. This is where the modern wave of classical education began.
She explained that young children are extremely proficient at learning the building blocks of any information. Small children love to parrot and repeat what they hear. Memorizing large quantities of information is fun and easy for young children, up to the age of 10 or 11. She called this the Pall-parrot Stage or the Grammar stage. Classical Education takes advantage of these natural tendencies in children to fill their minds with useful building blocks for later learning.
The next stage, Logic, begins when children start to argue with their parents on a regular basis. This occurs at different ages with different children, but it is generally in the early tween years. At this stage, children are no longer satisfied by memorizing bald facts, no matter how fun the song that they have been put to. Suddenly they want to know why things are the way they are. Classical Education feeds this desire and hones it into the ability to reason well. During these years, children are taught to think deeply and in an orderly manner. This will include the study of Algebra, as well as Latin and formal Logic, all of which are excellent at training the brain into organized thought. It will also include learning how to express their thoughts in an orderly manner through writing. It is also during this time that some of the great works of Literature, both historical and fictional, are introduced to the student. The student is encouraged to begin having those great conversations with the great thinkers who have gone before.
The final stage of educational childhood development is matched during the high school years to the Rhetoric stage of learning. At this point in classical education, the student is taught to clearly and persuasively express all that he's learned throughout the course of his education. This does not mean that everything the student needs to learn he has learned before 9th grade. However, by that point, he will have a deep well of knowledge and information to draw from. More importantly, the student will have mastered the art of learning itself. He will have been taught not just facts and propaganda, but how to decipher any information that he comes across. The goal of classical education is to teach our children to think, to teach them how to learn, to teach them how to navigate the flood of information that they will be confronted with for the rest of their lives.
We firmly believe that Classical Education, taught through a biblical worldview, will give our children the best chance to stand firmly on their own two feet, not swayed by the thoughts and opinions of the wider culture.
You may be able to tell from this short description that a classical program will look very different from what most people are used to when they think of education. It can be difficult for those used to a traditional classroom to retrain themselves to think in terms of a classical classroom. In fact, if modern teachers are placed in a classical classroom, they will soon find that the methods they have learned are incompatible with the program. Before someone tackles teaching in a classical school, or even homeschooling in the classical method, it is necessary to become educated on what this actually looks like. For this reason, parent education is considered vitally important at HCA. We want our parents to be fully equipped and confident in teaching their children using the classical method.