Do You Really Know What Classical Education Is?

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When you research homeschooling, you run into quite a few terms. Unschooling. Charlotte Mason. Classical education.

It can drive you batty!

So today, let’s take a look at just what is classical education?

Modern Classical Education

Modern classical education began when Dorothy Sayers gave a lecture in 1947 titled The Lost Tools of Learning. It detailed her vision for education.

In this lecture, Dorothy Sayers divided education into three distinct stages which gave rise to the modern classical education movement. The three stages, taken from the Trivium, are the grammar stage, the dialectic (or logic) stage, and the rhetoric stage.

Grammar Stage

This first stage is the grammar stage which aligns nicely with the elementary years. Children in this stage love memorizing and cheerfully agree with you about everything. They parrot jingles from commercials and quote parents. Young children love memorizing facts, even if they don’t truly understand the facts.

The little grammar students are busy laying the foundation for future education.

So in modern classical education, elementary kids memorize history lists, parts of speech, and multiplication tables. These years are also the perfect time to have kids memorizing beautiful poetry and Bible verses.

Personally, I don’t have my kids memorize lists as much as I attempt to expose them to stories. Stories of great men and women. Stories from fairy tales and mythology. Stores of good versus evil.

Stories that will help shape them into men and women of good character.

As you’re teaching your youngest students, remember that you’re laying a foundation. Young kids should love their studies and be eager to learn more.

Dialectic or Logic Stage

If the grammar stage aligns with the elementary years, the dialectic stage aligns with the middle school years. However, there is quite a bit of discussion about when kids move from the grammar stage to the dialectic stage, simply because kids mature at different rates.

If the grammar stage is about memorization, the dialectic stage is about argumentation. Suddenly your sweet adorable child becomes moody and argumentative.

They argue with you at every turn.

Since children in this stage love to argue, it’s the perfect time to teach them critical thinking, logic, and argumentation. To be honest, I don’t worry about critical thinking with my grammar stage kids. Those years are about introducing them to the good, the beautiful, and the true.

However middle school kids need to learn critical thinking skills and how to argue well. And not only by using a critical thinking text but also through discussion in all the subjects your child is studying.

It’s time to ask kids about cause and effect. About why things happened the way they did. And to let the kids squirm as they think critically about the world.

Rhetoric Stage

Gradually the child stops arguing with you at every turn, instead you find yourself having deep philosophical discussions about the state of the world or why people are not logical. Your child is now entering the rhetoric stage.

And the rhetoric stage aligns well with high school.

Once the student reaches the rhetoric stage, they usually have a good grasp of various subjects such as history and science. They’ve learned the basics and learned to think critically about the world.

It’s now time to learn to express themselves well.

So encourage your teenagers to ponder and discuss the world. Ask questions and encourage your teens to pontificate on their thoughts about the world.

You’ll be surprised at the depth of their thinking!

Classical Education in The Homeschool

For many homeschoolers using the classical model, history (not Latin) is at the center of education. History provides a systematic framework to develop young minds over 12 years. And literature, writing, geography, fine arts, philosophy, and government can all be taught in and around history.

A 4-year rotation through history is popular as it allows you to cover all of world history at each stage.

The four-year rotation is usually:

  1. Ancient History
  2. Fall of Rome – 1650
  3. 1650-1850
  4. 1850-present

The first time through the rotation happens during the grammar stage. So concentrate on teaching kids the essence of what happened and stories of the men and women who shaped history.

The second time through history occurs during the dialectic stage so you concentrate on teaching kids to think critically. Why did Napoleon need to sell Louisiana to President Jefferson?

Your kids will be in high school during the third time rotation. So now expect your kids to not only think critically but also analyze their studies. What were the long-term consequences of selling Louisiana for both France and the United States?

And how can you apply the lesson to your life?

Systematic Studies

This systematic study doesn’t just apply to history, but also to all other disciplines. For instance, many classical educators rotate through the scientific disciplines in a similar manner.

  1. Biology
  2. Earth Science and Astronomy
  3. Chemistry
  4. Physics

And the same happens for literature. The grammar stage kids begin by reading children’s books, Bible Stories, fairy tales, and mythology. In the dialectic stage, they move to classic literature or abridged editions of the Great Books. During the rhetoric years, teenagers read through the Great Books of Western Civilization.

Ultimately classical education isn’t about just giving your kids an excellent education to get them into college. It’s about teaching your children about what is good, beautiful, and true. About giving them the gift of clear thinking and good expression.

Classical education is about educating your children for life.

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  1. I am a classical homechooling momma, as well, so I was excited to see your post on the link-up. The more I can share the beauty of what the classical model provides to everyone, teaching us how to learn, it just grows and grows. This homeschool journey isn’t just about educating my children, though that was the start we had, it eventually became a passion to redeem my own education and reclaim a heritage to love learning and instill it in my children. What is your favorite classical education book?

    1. My favorite classical education book is The Well-Trained Mind. It’s given me the vision for our homeschool for the last 14 years! What is yours?

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