10.02.2014

What is Classical Education Anyway?

We have gotten the question "so what is classical education anyway?" many, many times, so I figured I'd write a post and add it to the homeschooling list. You can read about our main reason for homeschooling here...we desire time with our kids and are working toward a "one-piece life" experience for our family. But in addition to that, we are homeschooling to give our kids the kind of education we believe in. (Again, this does not mean you too, must choose classical education for your family, and it does not mean that we have to choose classical education indefinitely). 

What is classical education...here we go! 

Classical education is all about training the brain and uses a three-part process to train the mind. We call that three part process the trivium...
Grammar Stage- teaches the information, or the facts. (The mind is supplied with facts and images).
Logic Stage- teaches how that information or facts go together, what they mean, their purpose. (The mind is given logical tools for organizing those facts and images).
Rhetoric Stage- teaches them what to do with the information- how to analyze information and how to express what they know in speech and written language. (The mind is equipped to express conclusions).
(and because posts are more fun with a picture)
Process 1- The Grammar Stage 
This stage is approximately grades K-4th. This isn't called the "grammar" stage in terms of doing English. It is laying the grammar in each subject, or the foundation, as the building blocks for all the other learning. (Just like grammar is the foundation for language). The "grammar" is basically the learning of facts: rules of phonics, how to spell, grammar rules, poetry, vocabulary of a foreign language, the stories, literature, and timelines of history, descriptions of scientific fields of study such as animals, the human body, etc, and things like math facts, math properties, etc. 

Children are naturally very, very good at absorbing and retaining information, and most of them thrive on repetition. How many times has your child watched the same movie over and over again, or wanted you to read the same book to them over and over again. Their minds love information. Their minds love to retain. So this stage of classical education capitalizes on this stage of their brain by training their brain to memorize, retain, and recall information. This is done through a lot of fun activities, songs, and timelines. This does not mean the kids do nothing but memorize. There are formal regular classes like reading, math, etc. They are not just memorizing random things and doing nothing else. 

The biggest push back people have when they hear about this stage of classical education is that "You can't memorize just to memorize. What a waste." Which yes, that is true to an extent. They aren't memorizing just to memorize- the information all comes back around in the logic stage, which I'll explain next. But even so, the act of training the brain, like a muscle, teaching it to memorize, retain, and recall, is teaching a child HOW to learn, more than it is teaching them WHAT to learn. 

Process 2- The Logic Stage
The logic stage is primarily 5th through 8th grade and can be characterized by "why?" Students in this stage of development are more interested in asking "why" than they are interested in finding out about facts. In this stage, students are starting to analyze information and understand cause and effect. They begin to make connections between different fields of knowledge, and they start to see how all those facts and things fit together. Here are some examples of the logic of subjects. In English/writing the student learns how to form a paragraph properly and how to support a thesis. In history, the student learns why the war of 1812 was fought instead of simply reading its story. In science, the student learned the scientific method rather than just learning what plants are, what animals are, etc. 

Process 3- The Rhetoric Stage
This final stage builds on the first two. So you see, it's not just "memorizing, or learning facts, just to learn them." "The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in 5th-8th grade, to the foundational information and facts learned in the grammar stage, and expresses his/her conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant, language."  At the end of a classical education, students in the rhetoric stage have been taught how to learn something and then how to express it in written word and spoken word (which includes properly arguing for their point of view, and being able to discern and understand the view point of others). 

In addition to the 3 phases, there are a couple other characteristics of classical education. 
1. Language focused. This means that most of the learning is focused on written and spoken words as opposed to images, such as pictures, videos, and television. Language focus is sought after in classical education because it uses a very different part of the brain that requires the brain to work harder. 
2. Interrelated knowledge and history intensive. Subjects aren't taught in isolation. "For example, astronomy isn't studied as an isolated thing, but rather it's studied along with the history of scientific discovery, which leads into the church's relationship to science and from there to the intricacies of medieval church history." There is so, so much knowledge out there and finding the links between fields of study is not easy. Classical ed. makes that process a bit easier by organizing information into timelines and progressing through learning in a distinct, orderly way. This leads to coherence in areas such as history, science and literature, which in traditional settings are often scattered, unorganized, and fragmented. 

Phew! So, there you have it! Classical Education in a nutshell. Hopefully I didn't leave you more confused than when you started! Next post in the homeschooling series will describe what our typical day in the grammar stage looks like! 

(Also, most of the descriptions of classical education above are the ideas, phrases, and direct quotes of Susan Wise Bauer- in her books and various podcasts I have listened to). 

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