Classical Education at Home

What is it?  More importantly why does it matter?

First of all BOOKS are written about this topic, so, of course, this is only the most basic of discussions.  I seek, here, not to explain the whole movement or the entire theory but to open a door and share with you what has intrigued and hooked me.  Our family goal is for the boys (and anyone else) to have the best, solid, classical education possible.  Frankly I do not expect we will home school for 13 years of non-college education; I’d be happy to but am realistic.  However, home or “school” the ideal of the best education possible remains.  This discussion, shares a few things about Classical Education that got me started thinking, and gives a basic out-line of why we feel it is important / best.

First, here’s a little history lesson. The classical model of ancient Greece and Rome was resurrected during Emperor Charlemagne’s reign in the Middle Ages and given a Christian twist. This classical Christian model which included the trivium, the quadrivium, and many more subjects was faithfully followed in Europe and North America for several centuries thereafter until around the middle of the 1800s when the Common School Movement began in the United States in response to a huge immigrant influx. A secular public educational model and lack of classically-trained teachers effectively removed the classical Christian method from schools. For the next 100 years, classical education was practically nonexistent with the exception of some prestigious private academies which catered to the elite classes.  SEE

I feel one of my challenges, one of my tasks as a parent is to see to it my children receive a better education than I did.  Mine was good, in some areas great but the good should never be the enemy of the better and we need to constantly push forward to achieve higher and higher goals and standards.   For example I am not bi-lingual, I expect both my boys to really study a 2nd and even 3rd language to the point of being functional.

In 1947, author Dorothy Sayers, observed; “although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ’subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think.”

Much of the current and modern renaissance of classical education is owed to the Dorothy Sayers essay “The Lost Tools of Learning”[1], in which she describes the three stages of the trivium—grammar, logic and rhetoric—as tools by which a student can then analyze and master every other subject. Sayers’ perspectives were popularized in the United States by the 1991 publication Douglas J. Wilson‘s “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning,”

The sad fact is now, however, frequently the schools are struggling to simply teach the basics with questionable success and no mastery; a much more dismissal condition than the one Sayers discussed.

A Classical Education is not unique to homeschooling; many schools follow the method to a greater or lesser degree.  However this discussion is in reference to home education and specifically the roots of the classical Christian education and it’s historically place in the home.

Classical educations, especially a Christian one is unique in that it seeks to faithfully abide by or follow the most time tested and proven form of education.  That education also happened to be, in the HOME, not in the public school classroom.  The home, with an observant and committed parent, is simply a more challenging and engaging environment than any classroom.

As with any educational method, the best a parent can do is read, pray, seek God’s guidance, learn and consider.  Then apply to your own family and children all that is beneficial and leave the rest at the door.  Children do not come one-size-fits all and nothing that pertains to them is cut and dry either; each family and each child demands a personal approach.   If you could see 10 families pray together, or cook together, you’d see 10 very different happens; the same is true of Classical Christian Education it is as unique to each family as the children in that family.  The roots remain the same – but the flowers are all different.

Consider this: from the 1620’s to the late 1800’s in the United States there was no mandatory public education; for a long time no public school option at all.  Parents, older siblings, at the kitchen table and a strong commitment to the best the child.  Literacy rates in the colonies, (1640 to 1700) particularly in New England, were extremely high relative to those in the Old World; and sadly relative to today. Shipton, New England has a 95% literacy rate. By the middle of the 1700’s nine Colleges / Universities had been founded including Harvard, Yale and William and Mary.  All stressed Classical studies and a Biblical foundation.  Learning to read, learning to acquire and use information, to manipulate language (written and spoken), learning to think not learning to pass a test.

A freshmen at William and Mary had to “be able to read, write, converse, and debate in Greek”.  The King’s College in New York required applicants to translate the first ten chapters of the Gospel in to Latin.

Nevertheless Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Monroe, all educated at home, of course, entered college at age sixteen.

(page 118 The Right Choice Home Schooling by Klicka).

I don’t know about anyone else, but there is no way I ever would have been accepted to college, much less graduated.

A Classical education endeavors to challenge the student to process information, to use skills, not simply to achieve a grade.  The goal is to teach, encourage and allow the student to think, not to simply feed them data to be repeated on command (standard tests).  Students read the great works of literature and philosophy; students study the Bible as related to all subjects, not as a separate elective.  Students read and read and read, and read the actual Great works, not a snippet in a text book that someone else deemed “representative”.  They read the original text, not someone telling them to what to think about the about the piece.  Subjects are integrated; for example: science is not only studied in lab but also as a part of history and also in relation to the church at the time.  Subjects like literature, history, language, art, math, and science; are related and considered as historical subjects, not only skill sets to reproduce.  Students are challenges in writing, in grammar and in language, in speech and presentation.  This educational method produced the greatest thinkers, leaders, and scientists in the Western world from the time of the Greeks until the late 19th century.

The classical Christian education continually asks a student to work against baser human inclinations (lazy, “easy way out”) to reach a goal.  Classical Education works with child developmental strengths to allow the child to be successful and feel accomplished.  Christian Classical Education seeks to make learning a life style an approach, not merely an activity to be finished up before basketball.

The Classical Method of education, also referred to as the Trivium is based on 3 stages of learning.  I have included the rough grades, but by schooling at home, we or any parent can better gage their child’s actually ability level and meet their needs accordingly.   The Classical method delves deeply in to a text or topic, and by using this method at home the child’s needs and abilities can be challenges not rushed or unnecessarily slowed.

The Trivium is divided into three main stages: the Grammar stage, the Dialectic stage, and the Rhetoric stage. These stages correspond roughly to grades K-6 (Grammar Stage), grades 7-9 (the Dialectic stage), and grades 10-12 (the Rhetoric stage).  The three stages of the tivium build upon the mental abilities and skills of the 3 age groups, developmentally.  Reading of the stages of Classical Education is much like reading the works of child psychologist Jean Piaget.  The emphasis of education and the challenges and goals are matched to the child’s developmental abilities; no frustration from asking a child to do what they do not have the aptitude to do.  A child challenged to undertake what is he is developmentally suited to is better able to experience accomplishment and the thrill of success.

Grammar – Grades K-6

During the Grammar phase (the original reasons grade schools have been called Grammar School), children are particularly adept at memorization.  At this age, children mainly are concrete thinkers, so they spend time learning concrete facts.  Frequently these children need a concrete object or picture to grasp a concept.  Classical Education challenges them by providing substantial subject matter for them to memorize, subject matter that matters.  Classically educated children learn, during the Grammar Stage, the factual foundation of each subject.

Logic – Grades 7-8

The Logic phase involves ordering facts into organized statements and arguments. During the middle school years, children are beginning to think independently. They often develop a natural propensity for argument and questing why; classical education seeks to harness that and use it to build up, and tear apart.  To make the family a team in seeking and exploring rather than caught in conflict that is so common at this age.

The Grammar and Logic stages closely mesh with the Concrete stage of child development discussed by Jean Piaget.  The ages when child thinks literally, thinks in terms of objects.  Black and white and right and -wrong.  Children must learn facts and information before they can be challanged to think independantly and creatively.

Rhetoric – Grades 9-12

Rhetoric is the art of communicating well. Once a student has obtained knowledge of the facts (grammar) and developed the skills necessary to arrange those facts into arguments (logic), he is ready and able to develop the skill of communicating efficiently; be it to educate or persuade.  During the high school years, students become concerned with what others think of them; and so their education must advance them towards interpersonal relationships with an eye to the future.  Classical education helps students develop their minds to think and articulate concepts to others; especially to be able to speak of their faith.

The Rhetoric stage meshes closely with the Formal Operations stage discussed by Piaget, basically the teen years.  This stage brings cognition to its final form.  The child no longer requires concrete objects to make rational judgments.  He is capable of hypothetical and deductive reasoning and creativity.

To learn more – Download An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents this is a free e-book.  Thanks to Classical Academy Press for the link and permission to share it.

Another resource is The well Trained Mind and the connected website: the forums are very active and very supportive and you’ll soon see Classical Education looks very different in each home you peer into.

Happy learning.



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3 responses to “Classical Education at Home

  1. Julie

    No shock to you if i agree whole heartedly! 🙂
    I will make one comment from the ‘other’ end (having a classical graduate) I started out with a lot of ambition that wasnt realized, for at least 2 reasons, one the students either didnt share my ambition or didnt have the aptitude that I thought they would:) The other was/is that like everything in parenting I had to look at the school work and my students and choose my battles.

    • I VALUE YOU AS A MENTOR, AS A MOM AND AS A HOMESCHOOLER. One thing i really HAVE learned is i have to taylor everything to my children, i never though my almost 5 year would sleep with a binky, heck i never though any child of mine would HAVE a binki. I also realize, even now as I “start” that a “full Classical Education” will not be achieved here either — for your same reasons. I understand that, but i see still the value in it, i still study — for me — and I still set that as my “ideal” or my ‘goal” — what we achieve, we achieve — kinda a “reach for the stars..” idea. setting a higher goal so when we fall short we may still be “higher” than we would have been with a lower goal. But, yes, pick the battles and see where it goes. I doubt we will do 2 languages, and not Latin and Greek. I do want them bi-lingual in a functional way as I see that as valuable in the world they will live in; now are they both going to have that ability, we will see, but I plan to try. will the boys read all the classics in the originals, Plato and so on, I don’t know. I want them to read some, and I want them challenged in their reading and thinking and writing.

      Thanks you so much Julie, I understand how limited your time is and for you to spend it on me, means a lot to me.

    • Also, I have seen your children’s education, I know the graduate. 🙂 If mine do as well I am ok with that. 🙂

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