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Classical Education
By Cyndy Rodgers
 
If, when developing your homeschool curriculum, you find yourself falling back to many of the concepts that were used to teach you as a child, it may be due to the comforts found in the structured concept referred by the teaching profession as the “scope and sequence method.”

The concept of Scope and Sequence assumes a few desirable ideas: The first assumption is that there is an encyclopedia of information that a child must learn. The second assumption is that we can divide this encyclopedia down into well-organized increments of twelve years and 180 lessons each year. The third assumption is that every child should be able to grasp these lessons with other children of like age.

Although we have chosen to homeschool to avoid the assembly-line mentality of public school systems, the idea that there are certain things children should learn (the scope) and developmental phases of learning (the sequence) still have an alluring validity. This is where the educational method called “Classical Education” may be the answer.

What is Classical Education?

Classical education is the theory that learning takes place in three stages. The early years of school are spent absorbing facts and laying the foundation for more complex study. In the middle grades students learn to think through arguments. Finally, in the high school years, they learn to express themselves. Classical education calls this concept the trivium (Latin for “three roads”).

The trivium consists of three stages of learning, classified as: Grammar (1st -4th grade), Dialectic (5th -8th grade) and Rhetoric (9th -12th grade).

The Grammar stage introduces children to the foundations of Language Arts. The basics in phonics, spelling, rules of grammar, and the vocabulary of foreign languages are the focus. In year three, Latin is introduced. Latin is studied because English is based heavily on Latin roots. Studying Latin also makes learning a foreign language, such as Spanish, Italian, or French, much easier in the later grades.

Children in the grammar stage also receive an introduction to sciences like Astronomy, Biology, Botany, and Physics. In this stage, introductory concepts also lay the foundation for mathematics. History and literature are introduced through classic stories. The underlying belief for this stage is that children in the first four years of their education are sponge-like, so the focus is the memorization of facts. It is here that the building blocks for all other learning are laid.

The second phase of the classical education trivium is called the Dialectic Stage. This is the time when children show an ability for logic. They puzzle out how everything fits together and develop logical thinking skills. They begin to notice cause and effect, and the relationships between different fields of knowledge. They see the coherent way facts fit together.

During these middle school years, the student begins learning algebra and the study of logic. The goal in this phase is for the child to begin applying logic to all academic subjects. In their reading, they are instructed to apply criticism and analysis to the text, not just relay information. For history, students must demonstrate an understanding of why events happened. The application of the scientific method is the focus in the study of science. Children in the logic phase learn to develop their writing with a focus on paragraph construction and the support of a thesis.

The final phase of the classical education method is called the Rhetoric Stage. The student in the rhetoric stage learns to apply the rules of logic learned in middle school years and the foundational information learned in the early grades to express his/her conclusions with clarity and conviction. In this stage, students learn to express themselves and defend their ideas with logical debate in both their writing and public speaking.

Teenagers in this stage begin to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts them. They may attend college courses or other forms of specialized training, and or begin working in an apprenticeship. Opportunities for foreign travel may also be part of their curriculum.

Because Classical education is language focused, with every subject being interrelated to history, the same four-year pattern is repeated three times. Each trivium studies Ancients worlds, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Reformation, and finally Modern Times. At each stage the history is studied in more depth.

Language arts and science are linked to the historic period of study. The sciences are studied in a four-year pattern that approximately matches the historic timeline of these sciences, beginning with biology and moving to the classifications and the human body, which date back to ancient times. Next is earth science and basic astronomy, which emerged during the early Renaissance. Following that is the study of chemistry, which is part of early modern history. Finally, basic physics and computer science is the focus while students study later modern history.

If this all sounds good but you wish to teach a Christian education then you may be asking . . . how does Classical education fit with a Christian education?

Remaining neutral when educating your child is impossible. This is even truer for Classical education due to its focus on the discussion of ideas. The criteria for selecting materials is how influential it was in its time as well as its influence afterward. Classical education requires that students use and understand words, instead of images. This aspect of Classical education has the potential to make an enlightening journey for the modern Christian. It allows them to see how Christianity has influenced western history: In law, government, art, science, and ethics. Additionally, students become familiar with their cultural roots.

However, Classical education is not meant to be strictly Christian education. The questions raised while studying cannot be answered without taking a stand. So no matter your beliefs, this method allows parents to achieve one of the primary goals of a homeschool education: To remain an influence with your child. The dialogue of thoughts and beliefs that arises cannot exist without each family bringing its own philosophy to the learning. Still, this style of education allows Christian students to learn to distinguish biblical answers from anti-biblical answers.

If so far, Classical education sounds good, then you may be asking “What is the curriculum?” Classical education advocates "great books" as opposed to reading someone else's summary or commentary in a text. Original sources are recommended when available.

Materials used to study are mostly original sources like letters, diaries, and biographies. The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, the tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, and Chinese and Japanese fairy tales. Older children will use the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare just to name a few.

Classical education uses the term “great books”. What are great books? They are the classic books that generations have read for years like Aesop’s Fables, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. But if you’re looking for a little more help, then get a copy of The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. This mother and daughter team have written a comprehensive guide to developing a Classic Education curriculum. Their book outlines how to implement the method as well as suggested curriculum for 12 complete years of study. The book also includes extensive resource lists, time-line ideas, and schedules. In addition, Wise and Wise-Bauer share their personal homeschooling experiences.

If you feel ready to shop for curriculum then here are a few suggestions. Veteran Classical Education fans seem to agree on a few tried and true products. In the area of teaching writing a product called Writing Strands seems to top the list. This can be found at www.writingstrands.com.

Another product topping the list in the homeschool market is Saxon math. Although Classical education relies on the written word and steers away from video, the video taped math lessons found at Teaching Tape Technology are just like attending a math class only you can stop the instructor and have him explain it one more time. The tapes are meant to accompany the Saxon algebra texts. Find them at www.teachingtape.com

Another company to look to for Classical education supplies is Rainbow Resources. Visit their web site at www.rainbowresource.com and find a section titled Classical education with a link to the Well-Trained Mind site.

A source cited frequently in The Well-Trained Mind is Greenleaf Press. They can be found at www.greenleafpress.com. They’re especially good for history materials.

The Book Peddler at www.bookpeddler.us is another good source for biographies, Saxon math, classic literature and more. Another source is www.literature.com who also carries a wide range of materials applicable for Classical education.

When it comes to the all-important study of language, a product called Power-Glide tops the list. Power-Glide is well known not only for their traditional programs like Spanish, French and German, but also for their programs in Russian and Japanese. However, more important is their program that teaches Latin, a staple of Classical education. Another tool to help with this subject is the well-known book English from the Roots Up, which can be found at www.literacyunlimited.com (Please see ads for all of these resources in this issue, plus a review of English From the Roots Up.)

Many of these websites mentioned will have articles, links and book lists that can give you more information on Classical Education. – C.R.
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