For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What is Classical Education

So what is Classical Education?

This question can be a challenge to answer. Classical education can be understood as a method, a school of thought or as a philosophy.

Really it is all of the above.Classical education has a history, into which I will not enter in here, but at its essence classical education is a philosophy or a model of education as I mentioned in my post yesterday.

Classical education gets its roots from a medieval model of education. It centers around a goal, and a pedagogy to accomplish and attain that goal.

This goal can be defined in two ways:
  • to teach children how to think and learn for themselves by giving them the tools of learning and foundations for interpretations. In this light Christian classical education wants to "produce students who have a solid intellectual understanding of the Truth, have passionate hearts to the Truth and have the ability to express this understanding and love to a needy world." (Biola University Article).
  • a pursuit of philosophy (love of wisdom) and science, as well as theology (study of God). In other word progress to higher lever of thought and understanding. "To the ancients, the focus of the Trivium was language used in pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness."
The way they went about accomplishing this goal was through a methodology or an educational structure that came to be known as the Trivium  and the Quadrivium. The Trivium and the Quadrivium represented the seven liberal arts believed to be the foundations needed to know how to keep learning and how to analyse and master other subjects. The Trivium and the Quadrivium described a set of curriculum  disciplines or subjects that would work together to produce a person that can live an integrated life.
" . . . a classical education is focused on presenting information and skills in a logical sequence at an age-appropriate time, thoroughly and continuously preparing students to progress to higher levels of thought.  Ultimately, the unity of the seven liberal arts and their proper study would produce an individual with a harmonious and well-ordered soul who would reason well, judge rightly, and live virtuously." (Jennifer Courtney - Towards the Quadrivium)
The Trivium (also called the three ways) consists of three part:
  • Grammar: the tool of knowledge. This is where the student is taught the basis for further knowledge: the rules and structure of language such as English, Latin, Greek, and optionally, study of Mathematics, which could be left to the next stage as well.
"The student would acquire language skills including the following: reading notable texts with comprehension; understanding language and its structure with application, and writing particular kinds of expression with skills" (Marjorie Lamp Mead - Liberal Arts for the Christian Life)
  • Logic, also called, dialectic: the tool of reasoning. This is where the student is taught good reasoning and argumentation.
". . . by analysing arguments, subsequently developing the ability to construct an appropriate response, culminating in the ability to determine if something is false or true, knowing how to obtain facts relevant to the argument and developing the discernment to be able to determine why a statement is true or false." (Marjorie Lamp Mead - Liberal Arts for the Christian Life)
  • Rhetoric: the tool of communication and expression. The student is taught to effectively use language in speech and writing to debate or demonstrate a point.

The Quadrivium (also called the four ways) consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

Some have viewed these categories as an approach to subjects but the historical classical view was to see these seven disciplines as bodies of knowledge closely related to each other. Again the emphasis was not on the method as it was on the goal to gain knowledge across all subjects, concepts and categories to be fit for life, to make sense of the world by making connections.
"The Trivium is at the core of Classical Education. What is the educational aim of the Trivium? To teach students to (a) memorize the basic facts, (b) learn how the facts fit together to form a coherent whole, and (c) to learn how to present the facts in a winsome and convincing way. It is important to recall that the structure can be adapted to many kinds of facts, from the multiplication table, to the history of America, to the story of Jesus and our salvation. Classical Education teaches students to think well and to love God with all of their being, including their mind. (Biola University article)
Also, it is worthy of notice that the disciplines contained in the Trivium do correspond with the stages of learning of children, namely, the memorizing and filling of knowledge stage corresponding to Grammar, the argumentative/thinking stage corresponding to Logic, and the expression stage corresponding to Rhetoric. This view of classical education is what is emphasize by the more recent neo-classicists of our day.

However, one must not be misled by the correspondence though it is worthy of note. True education which is in line with what we are called to do as christians and will help us in our daily living as adults, is  really a process where each student is guided through the acquisition and understanding of a body of knowledge or disciplines. What is sought is mastery of the basics of rudimentary subjects (emphasized in the elementary years), progressing to the development and use of critical thinking skills in the upper grades. One child, however, may move to the next level earlier than another based on his abilities. The goal is a wholeness and integration of knowledge, and as christians, all done under the overarching authority and Truth of Scripture, that is a christian worldview.

The focus is really on a rigorous academic of language skills, reading, comprehension, math, writing, classic languages such as Latin and Greek, study of classic literature, logical thinking and debate, the study of which building a wholeness of understanding of the world, truth, goodness and virtue.
"Without sufficient knowledge we do not know what questions to ask, but without critical judgment we are unable to intelligently evaluate the answers we discover" (Marjorie Lamp Mead - Liberal Arts for the Christian Life)
"Learning to love God with all we are and have is what a christian Liberal Arts is about. It is an exercise in applying all of ourselves - spirit, intellect, emotion, even our bodies - to an engagement with the Creator and His creation. " 
(Duane Liftin - Liberal Arts for the Christian Life)
For more information, you can check these resources:

 Other posts in the series:
What is Classical Education?
Why and How I homeschool Classically
What is Relaxed Homeschooling
Combining Classical and Relaxed

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