When I made the decision to homeschool a few months before my oldest son began Kindergarten, I knew nothing of the Classical Method, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Unschooling, or any other educational philosophy. Nor did I care. I’ve never been the type of person to subscribe to any one philosophy. When my children were babies I can remember other moms asking me, “Oh, do you do Babywise or Dr. Sears or this or that?” The idea of parenting according to the ideas from a book seemed absurd. I felt the same about home education. It seemed pretty simple, choose quality curriculum, make fun activities, and viola!, the kids learn.
I was on track to proceed with my “no philosophy” educational philosophy when my friend told me about Classical Conversations. Out of curiosity, I began to research the program. That led me to researching what a classical education meant, which led me to The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer--which I HIGHLY recommend. It didn’t take long into my research about Classical Education to realize that 1) this is most definitely the kind of education I want for my children and 2) this is exactly the type of education I wish I had received. Below I will explain why I feel a Classical Education is such a good fit for our family.
I will be the first to agree that some of the reasons I have listed below sound dull/dry/boring. Why would I want to subject my kids to that type of education? Well, the short answer is, they love it. Why do they love it? I believe it’s because that is how they were designed to learn.
1. Modeled Around the Way our Brains Learn
If you think about how we learn anything new, from playing piano to car mechanics to cooking, first we have to learn the basics--vocabulary and rules. You can’t bake an apple pie if you don’t even know what flour is or if you don’t know the basics of measuring. Next we figure out how to organize and manipulate the basic information we have gathered up. We start asking questions. Using our apple pie example, we can now start manipulating the recipe to better understand why and how. Why is the temperature of the water important in making the pastry? How does the sweetness of the apples I use affect the flavor of the pie? Finally, we have mastered a topic well enough to teach/create. We can teach others how to make apple pie, explaining to them what might happen if we use Fuji apples instead of Granny Smith. Or we can create our own recipes.
This same process of learning is the basis of Classical Education, called the Trivium, or three stages of learning. The trivium consists of the Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric stages. Grammar, in this case, does not refer to English grammar, but rather to the foundation of any subject. The grammar stage for learning correlates with the elementary school years. Children at this stage love to gather facts and information, and their brains are ripe for memorizing. Children are sponges, and they have an amazing ability and desire to absorb massive amounts of information, facts, and stories. It makes sense to feed their hungry little appetites for learning with as much quality input as possible.
The logic stage coincides with middle-school age children. During this stage children take all the facts and information they have soaked up during the grammar stage and begin to organize it. They start asking questions like how and why. They begin to think through problems logically. They examine texts, literature, art, music, and the world critically.
The final stage is the rhetoric stage, which occurs during jr. high and high school. During this stage students have a strong command for the topics they are studying. They begin mastering the art of communicating that which they have learned in both written and oral formats.
2. History is Taught in Chronological Order
The first-grade history class is renamed Social Studies and begins with what the child knows: first, himself and his family, followed by his community, his state, his country, and only then the rest of the world. This intensely self-focused pattern of study encourages the student of history to relate everything he studies to himself, to measure the cultures and customs of other peoples against his own experience. History learned this way makes our needs and wants the center of the human endeavor. . . . The goal of the classical curriculum is multicultural in the true sense of the word: the student learns the proper place of his community, his state and his country by seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning and then fitting his own time and place into that great landscape.
--The Well Trained Mind, p. 108
I believe history is just as it’s name implies--a story. For a story to be fully understood, it must be told in order. As a young, high-school student, I always wanted my parents to buy me a complete history of the world because I always wondered what was happening in various parts of the world during major events. For example, what was happing in Africa or Japan during the American Revolution? If you study history by region, you miss out on seeing how our big world has been intertwined from the beginning. How can you study the French Revolution without understanding the influence from the American Revolution? How can you study South American history without simultaneously studying the events in Europe that led to colonization?
3. All Subjects are Integrated
Just as history should not be taught in isolation by region, subjects should not be taught in isolation from each other. Math, Reading, and History provide the spine which binds all other subjects together in a sort of web. After all, how can one understand music or art without understanding math, physics, and geometry? How can one understand biology without understanding biochemistry or geography? DaVinci studied art alongside anatomy (drawing the human body in correct proportion) and chemistry (learning how to make different types of paint and colors), engineering alongside military history (designing various weapons).
4. Educates the “Whole” Person, Fostering an Appreciation for Beauty and Virtue
The idea is that as students dedicate themselves to the study of our world from the beginning to present, see the relationship between all areas of study, and delve into amazing discoveries and accomplishments throughout time, they will recognize beauty and virtue in many different forms. This is in direct opposition to the end goal of modern public education, which seeks to train a child to be college and career ready. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is priority #1 for young people to be college and career ready, but I think it’s a disservice to the human spirit for that to be the ultimate goal of education.
5. Teaches Students to How to Learn
The goal of a classical education is not to teach a child what he needs to know to be successful in the adult world. Rather, the goal is to teach a child how to gather the knowledge he needs to know to be successful in the adult world. As the child ages and becomes more familiar with the process of learning, the parent becomes less of a teacher and more of a facilitator to his child’s education.
6. Instills a Love for Education
Because one outcome of a classical education is for students to learn how to learn, students are able to take ownership of their education. In doing so, they develop a life-long love for learning.
7. Teaches Students Discipline and Hard Work
Through a classical education, a child experiences how hard work and discipline can bear fruit. He sees that through focus and effort, he can accomplish understanding. It is the same sense of accomplishment that comes from anything which requires hard work and discipline, such as running a marathon or climbing a mountain. It is the sense that despite the desire to give up in the face of difficulty, you pressed on, you continued to work hard, and in the end you succeeded. At a very young age, a child may experience this by memorizing and reciting the US Presidents or 7 continents, or a favorite poem. At an older age a child may experience this by reading Virgil’s Aeneid for the first time in Latin after years dedicated to the study of Latin.
8. Teaches Focus, Concentration, and Attention to Detail
Three areas of focus for students during the grammar stage are copywork, memorywork, and recitation. In practicing these skills, students learn from a very young age to focus on the task at hand and to be deliberate in their work, paying close attention to detail.
9. Excellence in Communication
One of the main goals of a classical education is to produce excellent communicators, in both written and verbal forms. Classical students are exposed to a variety of original writing and literature, which fills their minds with excellent examples of writing. Through a diligent study of English grammar and logic, students learn to tackle speaking and writing on any topic.
10. The Success Lies in the History
Most US Presidents received a classical education; all the Founding Fathers did. All education was classical education up until the past 75 years or so. How do you perceive the US educational system is performing today? Most of Western Civilization’s great thinkers were educated classically, Martin Luther, Einstein, Galileo, and Newton to name a few.
11. The Education I Wish I Had Received
I am learning all these wonderful things right along with my children, and I love it. I love the stories from history. I love the fine arts and music. I love the Latin (I never thought I would say that.). I love being excited about learning right alongside my kids.
For questions on Classical Homeschooling, please feel free to contact me or comment below. I feel like it has taken me a couple of years to fully understand what it means to classically educate my children, but I finally have a grasp on it.
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