Classical education is the true traditional education. There was a time when all there was, was classical education. In its most simplest of definitions, as classical educators and homeschooling parents, in all we do, we seek to engender in our children a love for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
The Distinctives of a Classical Education
- Classical education aims to teach wisdom—how to think—and virtue—what to do—through the learning of classical languages, reading of God-honoring classical texts, and study of the 7 liberal arts. (What are the 7 Liberal Arts? Read my blog post about this topic to learn more.)
- Classical education is traditional. Our education practices span the centuries in the sense that parents, in the role of teachers, lead the children to virtue, wisdom, discovery, and inspiration. Lessons focus on content mastery. This is in the tradition of our founding fathers and those who have gone before us. It is a time tested and true method.
- As Christian Classical educators we filter all we teach through the standards of the Bible. We teach the essentials of the Christian faith, maintaining belief in the goodness of Christian morality and the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
What is Classical Education?
Classical education is the imparting of wisdom and virtue through the study of the liberal arts and humanities. The liberal arts are the fundamental intellectual skills used in every academic discipline and the humanities are the history and literature of Western civilization through which we learn, through precept and example, the ideas and values of our culture.
Although it is the best way to learn the skills for both employment and citizenship, it does not focus on narrow job skills training or political indoctrination. Rather, its focus is passing on the culture of the Christian West to the next generation.
Children who are educated classically develop a life long love of learning that enables them to do any job or start any business. They learn the critical thinking skills to conquer any task and figure out what they need to do to accomplish a goal. And they have a strong moral background steeped in what is good, true, and beautiful. This is the way the greatest men and women of our country have been educated for centuries. Only in the last 50 years have people tried to derail the system that produced some of the greatest minds. But time has proven that the classical way is the best way.
There are lots of different curriculums on the market now that cater to classical homeschooler’s needs. Whatever curriculum you choose look for these markers:
- The curriculum focuses on the cultivation of wisdom and virtue through meditation on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
- This is accomplished in two ways: first, through training in the liberal arts; and secondly, through a familiarity with the great books and the great thinkers of the Western tradition.
- This curriculum is constructed with two central ideas in mind: mastery and simplicity.
Mastery of content should be the goal of every program within a classical curriculum. Students should be guided through the material in a way that emphasizes mastering a concept before moving on to a new one. The ability to immediately recall information and explain ideas should be the end-goal of each program.
Curriculum needs to be simple. Simplicity should be central to the design of each program. Rather than building the curricula full of extras and dress-ups, look for one that is robust, thorough, and focuses exploration of each subject as it is studied. The purpose needs to be presenting a product that is highly accessible and effectively taught.
The curriculum needs to be a coherent whole in which each year of study builds upon the skills and knowledge of the previous year. Families should not be deterred, however, by the cumulative nature of the classical curriculum.
Formal classical curriculum should begin around third grade. That’s about the time when they are ready to start latin and classical studies such as reading D’Aulaires greek myths. That book is exceptionally well done, very age appropriate, with beautiful illustrations. By this time the children have had many years of Christian Bible instruction so they can compare and contrast the false God of the greek myths with our one true God. The stories are enjoyable and the illustrations are beautiful. A good understanding of the essentials of greek mythology opens up the flood gates of understanding because so much of what we learn (classical or not) has been influenced by greek mythology. The constellations, illusions in book and movies, Shakespeare, common colloquial sayings, all refer to myths time and time again. Third grade is also about the time when they will start Latin. (Second graders can begin with Memoria Press’s Prima Latina if they are reading well).
I often find in classical curriculum the typical high school courses, such as American Literature or World History, are missing from the curriculum and that’s fine–it’s just covered in different ways; instead there are the three “Studies” areas—Classical/Christian Studies, English Studies, and American/Modern Studies. In these integrated courses, students learn the history, geography, literature, and art of each culture. This actually is a very effective method of learning about the past, one which decreases fragmentation and increases understanding and retention. Courses in these three-pronged “Studies” curriculum satisfy college requirements for history, English, and geography.
The Christian Distinction
Look for curriculum that teaches Christ and filters all they do through the lens of the Bible. Classical education has been around for thousands of years. We get much of our knowledge and wisdom from the Greek and Romans. But they were not always Christian. Though we learn much from them, there is also much wickedness that must be sifted through. A good classical curriculum will do all that work for you. It will sift through the muck and mire for you only presenting what is appropriate for a Christian child to read and supports a Biblical worldview.
The benefits of a Christian education are many. But above all it aspires to give students the kind of wisdom that would require a lifetime of experience to achieve on their own. This wisdom is gained by reading the classics under the guidance of teachers who have integrity, knowledge, and wisdom. Look for a curriculum that can guide and assist you in that endeavor.
The Philosophy (or Pedagogy) of Classical Education
Latin and Greek, mathematics, and music are foundational and universal languages. They are the cumulative and challenging subjects, enabling students to reach their full intellectual potential by developing the powers of the mind as no other subjects can. The singing of hymns (which we call sacred music) awakens the soul to God and assists in creating a community of faith, hope, and love. A careful reading of the classics, guided by the truths of Scripture, develops wisdom and virtue.
Classical curriculum is best organized into the following six academic subjects (plus music, art, and physical education):
• Classical Languages • Mathematics • Classical/Christian Studies
• English Studies • Science • American/Modern Studies
I have used many homeschooling curricula and the one that I have fallen in love with is Memoria Press. I started with Abeka initially, and I still love them today (they are Christ-centered, patriotic, and many elements are classical – but not all for sure). I started with Memoria Press’s award winning latin (I have never seen a better latin curriculum– none compare). And gradually I started to replace more and more of A Beka with more and more Memoria Press.
The last thing I was hanging on to was the A Beka phonics for the little ones. It had taught all my older children to read very well using their method (I have seven children so I’ve done this a few times!). A Beka’s method was modeled after Noah Webster’s Blue Back Speller. It is a classical phonics method. But so is Memoria Press’ phonics, and it had been getting rave reviews. I finally trusted what I’d been reading and hearing and made the leap and I have been so pleased. Their phonics is everything that A Beka is and far better. So now I’m all in – Memoria Press all the way. If you are interested to learn more about the products and support Memoria Press offers homeschooling families, just visit their website.