An introduction to classical education

Classical education is growing in popularity among those who are concerned about the direction of education and want options to current educational models. Dorothy Sayers’ essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning” was the seminal essay in recent years that prompted interest in this traditional approach to education. Classical education is based on the philosophy of education that was part of Classical Greece and Rome and was used during the Renaissance.

The classical approach to education follows a cognitive-developmental approach. Teaching methodology matches the developmental skills and abilities of the learner. Learning occurs through the communication of words and investigation rather than through the cognitive approach of stressing memorization and the use of images, pictures, and media.

Classical education philosophy divides the educational process over three stages called the Trivium. Each stage serves as a foundation for the next stage. Each stage identifies learning goals and methods.

Grammar stage

The Grammar stage includes grades 1 – 4. The stage emphasizes learning facts and memorization. Memorization often employs songs and games. Unlike modern educational philosophy, self-expression and self-esteem are not educational goals. Rather, educational methods focus on learning the facts such as the rules of phonics and grammar. Vocabulary is an important subject as is learning foreign languages like Latin. A popular phrase at the Grammar stage is the emphasis on the “grammar” or stepping stones of other subjects.

Logic stage

The Logic stage includes grades 5 – 9 and covers early adolescence from a developmental perspective. The developmental characteristic of this stage and the primary goal of the Logic stages is to assist students in exploring why certain facts are true. The “why?” question looks for cause and effect relationships. In other words, the student may have learned the dates of World War II in the Grammar stage and then explore the reasons why the war occurred in the Logic stage. The search for the reasons behind the facts assists the student in assimilating knowledge in a logical manner within the student’s world view.

The development of abstract thought begins in the Logic stage. Students are often introduced to algebra during this stage. Students in the Logic stage engage in debates. Students learn the scientific method.

Rhetoric stage

The Rhetoric stage is the final step in the Trivium and includes grades 10 – 12. This is the period commonly labeled developmentally as adolescence. The Rhetoric stage is the culmination of previous learning. The Rhetoric student takes previous knowledge and in this stage learns to express that information in a convincing style. The Rhetoric stage includes the integration of subjects as when historical facts are used in the study of literature.

The Rhetoric stage includes required curriculum. Rhetoric students are encouraged to participate in the Arts. Learning a foreign language may be required. The Rhetoric curriculum includes the study of classical philosophy. Rhetoric students often take a Rhetoric course which includes learning how to write and present a formal paper on some topic.

Classical education as a philosophy tailors education for the developmental stages of human development. Classical education is certainly diverse and open to a plethora of resources since it builds on a long tradition of learning especially in Western Civilization.