What is Classical Education?
Classical education is a commitment to prepare students for life. The classical educator is more concerned for the full development of students as human beings than he or she is concerned about training for a specific career. While career training holds a very important place in education, career training is too narrow a goal for a robust philosophy of education that prepares students to be wise citizens, leaders in homes and communities, and entrepreneurs. Classical educators must aim for well-rounded, clear thinking, and honorable students who are morally fit to lead others. Therefore, classical education seeks to cultivate wisdom, virtue, and eloquence by nurturing the souls of students on that which is true, good, and beautiful. The apostle Paul commends these matters to us as food for our souls and the matter of our intellectual musings when he says in Philippians 4:8-9, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and practice them.”
The primary source for cultivating wisdom and virtue is the Bible. Nevertheless, there is much a young mind must learn to be able to read God’s Word and understand it. In addition, the ability to understand man and the physical world in which we live requires knowledge of several fields of study. The ancients knew education was about producing virtuous people who understood humanity and the world, and they looked for a unity of knowledge that Christians now proclaim is revealed in Christ. Medieval teachers continued to strive for wise students, and so they forged a path for training students in virtuous living by way of the seven liberal arts.
The arts are called “liberal” from the Latin word for “free” and represent the basic knowledge needed for people to be free. The liberal arts divide into two categories: the language arts and the mathematical arts. The language arts are known as the trivium because there are three: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. They govern the communication of the mind through reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Grammar is the correct use of language, logic is correct thinking to arrive at truth, and rhetoric is clear expression in writing and speaking. While many of the deeper aspects of logic and rhetoric are pursued in the upper grades of secondary education, the groundwork for these subjects is laid in the early years through exposure to excellent literature and chronological timelines, attending to and delighting in the natural world, and studying other languages. The mathematical arts or quadrivium, because there are four, include arithmetic, harmonia (music), geometry, and astronomy. These arts include the theory and application of number as well as the theory and application of space. In younger grades, classical educators prepare students for higher math and the branches of science introduced in the secondary grades by providing many opportunities for exploring numbers and making time for scientific demonstrations and inquiry.
In addition to the seven liberal arts, three values shape our approach to education. We value teaching to mastery, growing a child’s natural wonder and curiosity, and aiding our students in seeing how all the subjects they learn are integrated to form a Christian worldview.
Teaching to mastery has many challenges in a modern classroom filled with a variety of students. Nevertheless, we accomplish this goal by remembering that we are teaching students not subjects. Rather than being enslaved to a dizzying array of objectives, we have narrowed our focus on fewer objectives in each subject area. These objectives define the curriculum so that any resources (textbooks) we purchase aid us in pursuing those objectives instead of becoming a book that we rush to get through. Classroom success is defined by actually teaching the student new ideas and skills rather than completing a textbook.