Classical Education



Information and Resources for the Classical Educator


Information and Resources for the Classical Educator

Classical Education
Today's classical education movement is based upon the approach used in the middle ages and is tied to the student's developing capabilities.  It is language-intensive and rigorous, with the goal of turning out an individual who has been taught not "what" to think, but rather "how" to think.  It is, therefore, exceedingly well-suited to our times.

The primary school years are divided into three stages known as the trivium.  The first phase is known as the Grammar stage and concerns itself with the basics, the "grammar", of the subjects studied.  The middle years are known as the Logic or Dialectic stage.  This period takes advantage of the student's growing ability to apply critical analysis to the material encountered.  The final stage is called the Rhetoric stage, in which the student synthesizes information and learns to communicate effectively in both written and oral forms.

The method of scheduling favored here divides the trivium into 3 four-year periods with the grammar stage encompassing years 1-4, the logic stage years 5-8 and the rhetoric stage years 9-12.*  This method of scheduling the trivium roughly corresponds to the contemporary organization of the educational journey into elementary, middle, and high schools.

The classical method provides coherence by using history as a core organizing principle.  In the first year of each trivium stage, focus is given to the Ancients.  The second year is spent on the Medieval period, the third on the Early Modern era, and the last on Modern times.  This cycle is repeated a total of three times during the twelve preparatory years.  The correspondence to modern western grade levels is illustrated below:

                                                                  Grammar             Logic             Rhetoric

       Ancient                                               1st grade           5th grade         9th grade

       Medieval-Early Renaissance             2nd grade          6th grade       10th grade      

       Late Renaissance-Early Modern       3rd grade          7th grade        11th grade

       Modern                                              4th grade           8th grade       12th grade

Literature is studied according to the same schedule.  The first grade student will hear stories from ancient times read to them.  In sixth grade, the student will read age-appropriate classics from the middle ages, and in the rhetoric stage the student will tackle great books and read from original sources.

Just as a different period of history is studied each year of the stage, a different scientific discipline gets focus.  The branch of science chosen is the one that generally dominated intellectual inquiry during the period.  Thus, in the first year of each stage, when Ancient history is being examined, the student studies the life sciences.  The Medieval period is spent on the geosciences and astronomy, the Renaissance to Early Modern period brings chemistry to the forefront and the Modern period attends to physics.  The branches are studied three times during the twelve years, each time at a more advanced level, corresponding to the student’s growing abilities.

The chart below summarizes the years of science study:

     Period                                                    Science                                  Years
     Ancient                                                  Biology                                  1st, 5th, 9th grades
     Medieval – Early Renaissance             Astronomy & Geoscience      2nd, 6th,10th grades
     Late Renaissance – Early Modern       Chemistry                              3rd, 7th, 11th grades
     Modern                                                 Physics                                  4th, 8th, 12th grades

Skill-based subjects do not lend themselves to this ordering, though the historical period being studied can be used in the lessons.  For instance, handwriting exercises can relate to the historical period under consideration.  And, historical correlations will be apparent as the student gathers background information on all subjects through the course of their study of history, and the study of the men and women who influenced such disciplines as mathematics.

The classical model has stood the test of time because it is logical, language-intensive and academically rigorous.  In contrast with the progressive and pragmatic approaches favored today, classical education strives to turn out well-rounded thinkers who know how to critically and objectively evaluate the information that is put before them, and to see that information in the context of the human story.

*Some approaches consider grades 1-6 to be grammar stage, 7-9 to be dialectic, and grades 10-12 as rhetoric.

**For a thorough treatment of the subject of classical education, see The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, Bauer, Susan Wise and Jessie Wise. 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.

***Portions adapted from the ClassiQuest science series.