Classically Educated: What is the Classical Model of Education?

When we first began homeschooling, I did not realize there were so many different styles of learning.  I chose curricula and found products that looked appealing to me.  Only after we had begun our journey did I realize that I had chosen products that fit within the classical homeschool model.  Since then I have learned more about the classical style of teaching and it has become the foundation for our homeschool.

What is Classical Education?

Classical education can be defined in many ways.  Here is my understanding and interpretation:

A classical education is one that takes its cues from the ancient Greeks and Romans.  It is an education based on the bygone practices and teaching methods utilized during the classical period of history.

Classical education has changed over the years.  In today’s education world, a classical education is the training of the mind through studying the written word by reading the great books and examining topics through the lens of historical events.  A classically educated student will study the original works of literature on a broad array of topics.  Through a classical education, a student is trained to learn facts, analyze information, think critically, and draw conclusions.

The classical model can be divided into 3 stages of learning:

Grammar Stage (Grades 1-4)

In this age, children are building the foundation for all later learning.  The grammar stage focuses on memorization of people, places, and events, as well as the mastery of math facts and grammar rules.  At this age, children are able to easily memorize and recall facts but they are not yet ready to start connecting ideas or thinking critically about events.  Therefore, the focus of these years is to fill them with facts and information through memory work, quality books, and hands-on experiences.

Logic (Grades 4-8)

As children build their foundation for learning through memorizing facts, they reach a point when they begin to question those facts and start to critically analyze what they have learned.  At this point, children enter the logic stage of learning.  In this stage, children begin to ask the question “Why?” as they learn about different topics.  They try to understand the cause and effect of events and actions.  At this stage, students are ready to begin studying Latin, algebra, logic, and other topics that require more abstract thinking.

Rhetoric (Grades 9-12)

In this last stage of education, the students are ready to take facts they have learned, critically analyze them, and then defend their beliefs and opinions both orally and in writing.  Rhetoric students are able to think critically about what they have learned and draw conclusions.  At this stage the focus is on stimulating discussions and persuasive writing.  By the end of the last year of high school, these students should be able to form their own opinions and draw logical conclusions from works of literature, science topics, and historical events.

Here are a few common features of a classical education:

  • Memorization – Memorization of facts, dates, poems, important people, events, and rules is integral to a classical education.  Once the student has mastered the foundational facts, he is ready to move into a deeper phase of study on those topics.
  • Narration/Dictation/Copywork – Narration is the telling back of events and details of a story.  Dictation is writing down what you hear (such as sentences from a work of literature or from a lecture).  Copywork is the act of copying word for word sentences or paragraphs from works of literature.  These skills are often taught in the grammar stage of classical education to give a student excellent models of literature and writing to emulate.  This provides a foundation for writing original works.
  • History Cycle – History is often studied in a cycle that follows a chronological timeline.  For example, the first year students study ancient history progressing through medieval, renaissance, and modern time periods.  Then this cycle is repeated at later grades with students examining the events in greater depth
  • Science Cycle – Science is also studied in a cycle.  Usually this cycle is broken into topics that correspond to scientific discovery though history.  These cycles might be classified as life science (biology and anatomy), earth science (astronomy, botany, geology), chemistry, and then physics.  This cycle is repeated at greater depth in the later years of study.
  • Interrelation of Facts – Through studying material through the lens of history, it is easy to integrate literature, history, and science to the time period being studied.  This allows for the interrelation of events as topics are viewed on a historical timeline.  For example, scientific discoveries can be related to the historical period and can be explored through the literature of the day to better understand why that discovery was of particular importance.  In this way, students make connections between facts, events, people, discoveries, and works of literature.
  • Focus on Languages – especially Greek and Latin – A classical education emphasizes the learning of Greek and Latin root words to better understand our language.  Through studying the grammar structure of these languages, the student can better understand English grammar and the structure of many other modern-day languages.
  • Logic – As the student progresses through a classical education, he will become adept at analyzing material logically and presenting a defense.  Classical education promotes the formal study of logic to aid the student in presenting oral and written defenses and thinking critically about events.

Why did we choose classical education?

I chose this education method because the importance of establishing a good foundation of facts through memory work resonated with me.  The more I explored the method the more I agreed with the study of facts, subjects, and time periods in a systematic manner.   I also wanted my children to read many of the great works of literature that are part of a classical education as well as understand how to analyze and discuss them.  I believed they should have a solid foundation in logic and reasoning to prepare them for debate and discussion.  I felt strongly that my children should have a working understanding of Latin and Greek to understand the etymology of many of our words.  In general, the classical model seemed well-organized (for my Type A self) and focused largely on reading (which is a favorite past time of everyone in my house).  I wanted my children to learn to think critically and be able to analyze world events through a Biblical worldview while being able to defend their beliefs.  I felt that the classical model best prepared them to be independent thinkers and learners.  It sounded like a great fit for the basis of our education.

Lexi is a Texas homeschool mom of 5 little people who are ages 8 and under.  She is a lover of books, connoisseur of curriculum, and allergy-free mama to several children with food allergies.  She blogs about her homeschool adventures and growing curriculum collection at Lextin Academy.

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