01 October 2020 (updated)

Classical Education: Forming the Character and the Mind

Classical education celebrates the liberal arts and character formation. As parents explore education options during COVID-19, consider this rigorous curriculum favored by many homeschoolers.

What Is Classical Education?

So what do people mean when they describe education as "classical"? The word "classical" refers to antiquity. This was the period of time when Greek and Roman culture influenced the world. During this era, education focused on developing both mental strength and virtuous character.

Classical education refers to the same academic model used in the Graeco-Roman world. Supporters of the classical method remind us that giants of history such as St. Paul, Galileo, William Shakespeare, and Thomas Jefferson learned through the classical method.

It focuses on teaching a student how to learn, not what to learn. Students are taught to think critically about ideas. They "learn how to learn." Classical educators criticize the modern curriculum for emphasizing that students only learn content needed for a test.

How does classical education accomplish these goals? Through teaching the liberal arts, and familiarity with the Great Books and studying the great thinkers of the Western tradition.

Virtue in Classical Education

Virtue, the forming of character, holds a central role in the classical curriculum. The materials train students to "love what is truly lovely and desire what is truly desirable."

As students grow in their education they also grow in character and citizenship. They learn to love learning. But just as they are taught to value teaching, they also learn to value themselves and each other.

Classical Trivium

Classical curriculums, such as Classical Conversations, or CC  are organized around the Trivium. The Trivium is a three-stage framework based on a child's developmental growth.

The Grammar Stage is the beginning of the Trivium and covers the time period of traditional elementary grades. The Logic Stage follows the Grammar Stage and coincides with modern middle school. Rhetoric is the third stage of the Trivium and parallels high school in more traditional models.

Grammar Stage of Classical Education

So what happens in each stage? Classical educators argue, "Exactly what should happen based on children's development."

The Grammar Stage celebrates the excitement of our youngest children. It also recognizes their ability to memorize information. Daily memory work happens in every subject.

During this stage, children learn the tools of learning and the tools of language. They memorize songs and poems about grammar, history, and phonics. They also begin to learn Latin which builds a  foundation for all Romance languages.

Logic Stage of Classical Education

Students begin the Logic Stage right as they enter adolescence. Perfectly timed, this stage gives students the tools to argue and dissect the content they memorized during the Grammar Stage. Middle School-aged students in a classical setting study how to take apart an argument and challenge a perspective.

In the Logic Stage, students learn to spot a logical fallacy, master a subject, and work as a team to build an argument. They also learn to debate from the perspective of Western thinkers.

Classical Education and the Rhetoric Stage

The final stage, or Rhetoric Stage, trains high school-aged students to put together their own opinions. The Grammar Stage provides them with tools for learning information. The Logic Stage then teaches them how to break that information down critically. Finally, the Rhetoric Stage equips students to build up their own thesis or strong, supported argument

Classical Homeschool Curriculums

Some private schools follow a classical model, but the curriculum has grown in popularity with homeschoolers, specifically Christian homeschoolers. The classical Christian curriculum sets out to educate the whole child, using Scripture to form character and discover Truth.

Classical Conversations is one of the most popular classical Christian curriculums with homeschool co-ops thriving in many communities. The CC Community supports each other throughout the school process.

Veritas Press is a classical Christian curriculum, that includes excellent literature materials and Great Books studies. Veritas also now has online courses.

If you are looking for virtual courses, Memoria Press has an online academy in addition to a full offering of Classical Curriculum essentials. Memoria also emphasizes its financial value for the homeschool family budget.

Choosing a Classical Curriculum

Many parents feel overwhelmed when first introduced to the classical model. Yet, the logical progression of the curriculum soon puts them at ease.

Author, professor, and homeschool parent Susan Wise Bauer's book "A Well Trained Mind" clearly explains Classical Education to adults who are new to the method. She also outlines simple steps for a family to start this educational journey with children.

Classical Method: Educating the Mind and Heart

Exploring Classical Education reminds parents and teachers of the important work of teaching for life formation. As you make school choices for your family, consider the values of Classical Education and the potential of a child's mind and heart at any age.