Substantive Education

July 17, 2009

The Classical Method

Filed under: Education,Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 9:06 pm
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Continuing in this series…One of the most popular movements among homeschoolers has been a movement back to the Classical approach.  This method hearkens back to the Middle Ages.  There are many different books on this method, each with it’s own unique take on how it should be implemented.  Here I will try to give you  what is generally common to all.

The classical approach to home education stresses the use of the Trivium.  The Trivium is a three-part process of training the mind  of the child:  the Grammar stage, the Logic stage, and the Rhetoric stage.  Each stage focuses on a different developmental stage.

The Grammar stage, early elementary school, is the first.  During this time a child is ready to begin absorbing information.  The child thinks in concrete terms, enjoys memorizing facts, and is happy accumulating information on a wide range of topics.  This is the time to lay a firm foundation.  This is not a time for in depth analysis or personal self-expression, but a time to get the basic structure in place so that as the child grows and learns they will have many ‘hooks’ on which to attach new information.  During this time children learn basic math facts, rules of phonics and spelling, history stories, and definitions of  basic science.

The next stage is the Logic stage.  Children enter this stage in late elementary school, or Jr. High.  During this stage students are capable of abstract reasoning and become obsessed with discovering ‘why’.  Children are interested in cause and effect, and begin to see relationships between different fields of study.  During this phase they are ready to begin the study of algebra, a more abstract field of mathematics.  Instead of just learning the facts of the War of 1812, students now need to know what caused the war, what lessons can be learned from it.  In english, students begin to apply logic to their writing, following carefully reasoned paragraph construction and showing an increase in critical thinking.  When dealing with literature in this phase students are not just recounting the facts of a story, but they are analyzing the characters and plot, discussing the moral choices that were made.

The last stage of the Trivium is the Rhetoric stage.  This is where all the learning comes together and the student learns to write and speak with clarity and forcefulness.  Rhetoric is a step beyond the logic stage, this is where the last two stages find their culmination.  At this point in a students development he should be able to take facts, analyze them, come to conclusions, see interconnections and then be able to express his views in a logical, well-thought out, elegant way.

One unique aspect of the classical method is that it is based on the written word.  There is very little room here for videos, or educational computer games.  The child is expected to interact with the written word in a meaningful way…this in turn will strengthen and train his mind for more rigorous disciplines and thinking.

Another emphasis is that all knowledge is interrelated.  Science, history, philosophy, mathematics…they are all related, and a development in one field inevitable spills over and affects another.  Being able to recognize there interconnections is an emphasis in the Classical approach.

As I said above, this approach became popular during the Middle Ages.  During that time there was a resurgence of interest in the classic civilizations of Greece and Rome.  Scholars were expected to study not just Latin and Greek, but also the histories and literature from that period.  The art and architecture of these civilizations became the new standard and there was an almost sacred reverence for anything thought to be from this era.  Because of this many who embrace this method also stress learning Latin, (and to a lesser degree Greek) and reading the ancient writers works.  There is much to recommend this approach as much of our language has come from Latin and Greek,and our ideas, history, and government finds it’s roots in these ancient cultures.

In one approach, outlined in The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer, it is suggested that children follow a four year course that is repeated three times.  On each cycle the child moves on to the next stage of development.  Here is a quick look at how this would work taken from The Well Trained Mind, website.

We suggest that the twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times. The child studies these four time periods at varying levels — simple for grades 1-4, more difficult in grades 5-8 (when the student begins to read original sources), and taking an even more complex approach in grades 9-12, when the student works through these time periods using original sources (from Homer to Hitler) and also has the opportunity to pursue a particular interest (music, dance, technology, medicine, biology, creative writing) in depth.
The other subject areas of the curriculum are linked to history studies. The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, the tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, Chinese and Japanese fairy tales, and (for the older student) the classical texts of Plato, Herodutus, Virgil, Aristotle. She’ll read Beowulf, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare the following year, when she’s studying medieval and early Renaissance history. When the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are studied, she starts with Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) and ends with Dickens; finally, she reads modern literature as she is studying modern history.
The sciences are studied in a four-year pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery: biology, classification and the human body (subjects known to the ancients); earth science and basic astronomy (which flowered during the early Renaissance); chemistry (which came into its own during the early modern period); and then basic physics and computer science (very modern subjects).
This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature — subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the student progresses in maturity and learning. For example, a first grader listens to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture book versions available at any public library. Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptations — Olivia Coolidge’s The Trojan War, or Roger Lancelyn Greene’s Tales of Troy. Four more years go by, and the ninth grader — faced with the Iliad itself — plunges right in, undaunted.

So if you are interested in further pursuing this method here are some books and resources you can use.  (Keep in mind, most of these authors have websites where you can continue to hear what they are writing and thinking about in between books.)

The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise.  (Ms. Bauer has several books and a very helpful website.)

The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson (Again, he has many helpful books including, Rediscovering The Lost Tools of Learning.)

To view curriculum that is focused on the Classical Method I would recommend visiting Veritas Press which has some excellent materials.


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