A classical education is more than simply a pattern of learning. Classical education naturally appeals to students. Classical teachers mentor and inspire students to investigate, contemplate, debate, and pursue knowledge. By teaching students how to learn, they come to love learning — and they are empowered for life.
The educational system called “classical education” was developed over two millennia with the goal of developing young minds to be wise. Used until the 19th century, this proven approach produced the greatest thinkers, leaders and scientists in Western civilization. The foundation of classical education is the “trivium,” or the three tools of learning. These can be applied to any subject and build on one another. In the pre-college environment, they correspond to the elementary (grammar), middle (logic) and high school (rhetoric) grades, and they capitalize on the developmental milestones in a child’s life.
Novelist Dorothy Sayers’ 1947 address at Oxford University on classical education is an easy read and great introduction to the philosophy of classical education. You can access The Lost Tools of Learning here.
Grades K - 5
During the grammar stage of a child's development, memorization comes naturally and large amounts of information can be readily absorbed. Capitalizing on these abilities, children in the grammar stage learn the basic building blocks of any subject through chanting, rhymes, singing or other techniques. Students concentrate on absorbing facts.
Grades 6 - 9
Students at this stage are beginning to learn more about the world around them and have a tendency to question what they have been told. Rather than fight this tendency, teachers instruct students how to construct a logically consistent argument. Students are now asked to put the grammar that they have learned into context across disciplines. Students concentrate on drawing conclusions from facts.
Grades 10 - 12
This has also been called the ‘poetic stage’ in which a student wants to express himself or herself about whether the events in history were right or wrong, how historical events have shaped our culture, and what is an appropriate response to the things that we see around us from a Christian world view. The students will cycle through the same historical sequence that has been covered in the grammar and logic stages of learning; in the rhetoric stage, a student is expected to make sense of the flow of history that has been presented and to offer an analysis of these events. In science, a student will be able to design and carry out experiments starting with a theory and testing that theory against the experimental data.
To the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. Math, science, philosophy, and history are interwoven in a way that relates all subjects to a whole. As students integrate subjects, scriptural truth is integrated as well. The continuity between a student’s faith and his rational mind is a reward few Christians enjoy. Classicism provides this perspective unlike any other form of education. The peace of knowing truth as it integrates with the world provides a powerful shield against the hostile questions posed in college and later in life.