When you hear the term ‘Classical Education’ what do you think of? Men in togas? Drill and kill methods? Rote memorization? You’re not alone. Many people believe the same. But Classical Education is not drudgery and dry work. It’s interesting and engaging. And most of all, it’s accessible to the average homeschool family (I should know, since that’s my family!).
A (very!) BRIEF HISTORY OF CLASSICAL EDUCATION
Classical education began with ancient Greece and the writers & philosophers of that time – Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. Later on it began forming Christian roots with Augustine. It included seven liberal arts which were divided into two parts, the Quadrivium and the Trivium.
The Trivium focuses on the how of learning (also referred to as the three arts of language and the three tools of all learning). All three parts are intertwined.
Grammar: Learning about the “grammar” or basics of a subject
Dialectic: Questioning and discussing the subject, forming a logical conclusion
Rhetoric: Communicating your final analysis of the subject
Dorothy Sayers (The Lost Tools of Learning) is the founder of our current understanding in using the Trivium as a series of learning stages. She referred to those stages as Poll-Parrot (Grammar stage), Pert (Dialectic stage), and Poetic (Rhetoric). She believed that while intertwined, the three parts of the Trivium could also be used as three stages of learning.
The Quadrivium, on the other hand, focuses on the subjects (arts) that are learned. In ancient/medieval times those included Astronomy, Arithmetic, Music, and Geometry. This changed over time when other subjects were added. But, even with all that, the same essentials remain. The methods of learning in the Trivium can be applied to any subject.
If you’re head is spinning from these strange words just take a breath, the history lesson is over!
THE GOALS OF CLASSICAL EDUCATION
So how does this apply to us today? It really comes down to goals. There is a plethora of products, curricula, and programs available for the homeschooling family. But when you know your educational goals it is much easier to wade through the piles of books.
A Classical education can provide the necessary framework for your goals and finding the appropriate materials that will meet those goals. Here are a few of the trademarks of a Classical education:
- Learning is done through observation, reading and discussion
- Training in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
- Simplicity & Focus
Of course there are also the basics of Latin, Greek, Logic, and Rhetoric. But the main goal of Classical education is to teach students how to be life-long learners. One way to achieve that is by deciding on your goals and the necessary skills that you want your child to possess. (This is more important than trying to find the perfect grammar program.)
Classical Education does not need to be time-consuming and difficult. One of the popular expressions that relate to this topic is ‘Multum non multa‘ meaning ‘much not many’. Instead of focusing on many topics, subjects, and programs, the goal is to distill your educational philosophy, focusing on depth and mastery.
Our school day does not take long. I focus on essentials and my goals for the year. For example, this year my goal is to focus on reading & summarizing skills. We have a variety of subjects but that goal is always on my mind – ‘how can we work on reading skills and/or summarizing skills within the framework of this subject?‘
Keeping your goals front-and-center and focusing on simplicity will provide plenty of opportunities for the extra-curricular activities that seem to get pushed aside (and give us all mommy-guilt for not adding enough “fun” into our day). A Classical education can provide the framework for that simplicity.
RESOURCES FOR MAKING CLASSICAL EDUCATION ACCESSIBLE TO THE AVERAGE FAMILY
I will be the first to say that we are an average family. None of us are super-intelligent. My daughter probably has more screen-time than many others (and reading is still not her favorite thing). She would much rather play Angry Birds than do a math lesson (so would I, actually!). But I believe that the basic goals of a Classical education are attainable. Even for our average family. So we are learning Latin (emphasis on we – I’m in on this life-long learning gig too). Next year we will be adding in some work with Logic. I’m learning to spend more time discussing ideas and books. When she spends time reading assigned books so do I (that life-long learning thing again).
I don’t think I would have taken this path if I hadn’t had a little bit of help. The following list of books are a great starting point for defining your own goals and learning how to achieve them:
Books for Classical Homeschooling:
The following books present the methods of Classical education but are more focused on offering techniques for applying those principles in a practical way (curriculum guides) –
- The Well-Trained Mind
- Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum
- The Latin-Centered Curriculum
- Teaching the Trivium
- The Core
These books are more scholarly works that focus on the principles and methodology of Classical education –
We are blessed to be Classically educating in this day and age. There are a variety of materials available to us and some publishers that offer products specifically for the Classical homeschool. The following publishers offer great materials for those interested in Classically educating their child (and themselves!):
Classical Education Publishers
And if you’re interested in reading more about Classical education here are few links to get you started:
Learning more about Classical Education:
- Why Classical Education?
- Classical Education Made Much Easier
- Three Pillars of Classical Education
- Multum non Multa
- What is the Difference between Classical and Conventional Education?
- 8 Principles of Classical Pedagogy (video)