What do we mean by "Classical Education"?
In the 1940’s the British author, Dorothy Sayers, wrote an essay entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In it she calls for a return to the application of the seven liberal arts of ancient education, the first three being the “Trivium” - grammar, logic, rhetoric. Miss Sayers also combines the three stages of children’s development to the Trivium. Specifically, she matches what she calls the “Poll-parrot” stage with grammar, “Pert” with logic, and “Poetic” with rhetoric (see chart on the page following).
At Calvary Christian Academy, we were strongly drawn to this idea of applying a classical education in a Christian context, following other schools who have pioneered in this endeavor all around the country. Calvary Christian Academy is committed to implementing this form of education.
Doug Wilson explained the classical method further in his book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.
“The structure of our curriculum is traditional with a strong emphasis on “the basics.” We understand the basics to be subjects such as mathematics, history, and language studies. Not only are these subjects covered, they are covered in a particular way.
For example, in history class the students will not only read their text, they will also read from primary sources. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric will be emphasized in all subjects. By grammar, we mean the fundamental rules of each subject (again, we do not limit grammar to language studies), as well as the basic data that exhibit those rules. In English, a singular noun does not take a plural verb. In logic, A does not equal not A. In history, time is linear, not cyclic. Each subject has its own grammar, which we require the students to learn. This enables the student to learn the subject from the inside out.
The logic of each subject refers to the ordered relationship of that subject’s particulars (grammar). What is the relationship between the Reformation and the colonization of America? What is the relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence? As the students learn the underlying rules or principles of a subject (grammar) along with how the particulars of that subject relate to one another (logic), they are learning to think. They are not simply memorizing fragmented pieces of knowledge.
The last emphasis is rhetoric. We want our students to be able to express clearly everything they learn. As essay in history must be written as clearly as if it were an English paper. An oral presentation in science should be as coherent as possible. It is not enough that the history or science be correct. It must also be expressed well.
The Lost Tools Of Learning
This chart is drawn from the essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers. It illustrates the applications of the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) that we use.
How Our Classical Approach Is Applied
Grammar Stage (Kindergarten - Grade 5)
In the Grammar Stage, students learn the grammar of each subject area. By grammar, we mean the fundamental rules of each subject area and the basic data that exhibit those rules. There is a strong emphasis on "the basics." Students learn how to read and write well, and they master math facts and develop the skills to solve math problems. They study history chronologically from ancient to modern times, and learn about plants, animals, and the human body. Since young children love to memorize information and repeat poems, verses, and songs, the Grammar Stage of the Trivium takes advantage of this learning bent in the students by incorporating songs and memorization into the curriculum.
Many of our parents comment that it is so wonderful to hear their children playing at home and singing songs about the books of the Bible, multiplication facts, the countries of the world, events in history, or the bones of the body. Young children love repetition, and enjoy singing the songs over and over again until they are part of their deep, long-term memories. Students also begin their study of Latin in 3rd Grade. Latin is essential to a fundamental understanding of English, history, and the writings of Western civilization. (For this reason, Latin was taught in American schools through the 1940s.)
Latin is a very systematic language, and trains the mind to think in an orderly fashion. The study of Latin improves English skills and vocabulary since the grammatical structure of English is based on Latin and over 50% of English words have Latin roots. Latin also lays an excellent foundation for subsequent study of any of the Romance languages, since they are all based on Latin, as well as future studies in medicine, law, and philosophy, disciplines that draw heavily from Latin. In summary, the focus of the Grammar Stage is on building a strong foundation and on absorption of knowledge rather than analysis.
Logic Stage (Grade 6 - Grade 8)
Students in the middle grades are ready for the Logic Stage as the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature. Logic is the skill of correct thinking and conceptual development. It is the thinking through of similarities, comparisons, and differences in order to induce the correct general conclusions. The Logic Stage utilizes an early teen’s tendency to contradict and argue to teach reasoning and principle comprehension.
The logic of each subject refers to the ordered relationship of that subject’s grammar or rules. For example, in history, what is the relationship between the Reformation and the colonization of America? As the students learn the underlying rules or principles of a subject (grammar) along with how the rules of that subject relate to one another (logic), they are learning to think. During these years students study formal logic and begin to apply logic to all academic subjects. For example, the logic of reading includes the criticism and analysis of texts.
Students learn how to critically analyze texts and determine whether the author is writing from a Biblical worldview or another worldview. They are required to think logically about the content they study in all subject areas, including Literature, History, and Science, and to expose any fallacies that they detect. During the Logic Stage, a socratic method of teaching is used; our classroom environment fosters inquiry, discussion, and debate, with an emphasis on reason and analysis. Students learn to think clearly, to analyze, and to synthesize information across subject areas.
Rhetoric Stage (Grade 9 - Grade 12)
The Rhetoric Stage capitalizes on a high school student’s need for self-expression and independence to teach the important skills of applying one’s knowledge of a subject and effectively presenting and communicating that knowledge. During these years students study classical rhetoric, the art of using language effectively and persuasively, and begin to apply rhetoric to all academic subjects. An essay in history must be written as clearly as if it were an English paper. An oral presentation in science should be coherent and engaging. It is not enough that the history or science be correct. It must also be expressed in clear, forceful, and elegant language. We want our students to be able to express everything they learn in a clear and beautiful manner. Rhetorical training gives students the skills to persuade logically and passionately with integrity, and equips them to not only respond to our culture, but to actively influence it.
Throughout all phases of the Trivium, a Classical Christian education integrates the teaching of all subjects in light of a Christian world view around the revealed word of God as found in the Old and New Testaments. True Christian education is not adding a Bible class or a weekly chapel on top of a "secular" curriculum. The Bible must permeate every subject. History is "His Story," and shows God's plan for mankind.
Science is the study of God's creation. Mathematics shows the order of God's world. Classical Christian education teaches not only Bible details, but Biblical systematic theology. From that theology, students develop a worldview that applies Biblical concepts to every area of their lives.
It is also important to note that in a Classical education, studies are highly integrated across subject areas. Bible, History, Literature, and Art studies are most highly integrated. For example, when our 1st Graders study the history of Ancient Egypt, they also study Genesis and Exodus, and learn how to draw pyramids.
As another example, when our 2nd Graders study the history of Ancient Greece, they read a child's version of The Odyssey and build models of the Parthenon. This integration across subject areas helps the students to more fully understand and appreciate the knowledge they are acquiring.