What is a classical education?

For anyone considering homeschooling I would highly recommend considering a classical education approach. I am most familiar with the Well Trained Mind/Story of the World and The Core/Classical Conversations.

I found these books and the classical education approach appealing for three reasons. The first is because I do not have an education degree, I worried I might inadvertently miss teaching something of importance in any given subject. The Well Trained Mind gave me a direction and provided guidance for curriculum so I could be sure I was covering everything of importance.

Secondly, I love how logical and sequential classical education is. You quite simply start at the beginning and go to the end. What a novel and marvelous approach to learning the history of the world and how all subjects are interrelated vs unrelated subjects which you study one hour at a time. Not only do you do go through this logical process once, but but three times in your K-12 career. So, for example, instead of a student having a semester (or year) of World History in highschool for the first time, when they reach highschool they are doing a 4 year cycle of World History for the third time! Instead of being intimadated by the Illiad or the Odyssey, highschool students have the confidence to dive right in because they've studied it twice before on a level which was appropriate to their age and comprehension level. Amazing!

Finally, the classical education approach is simply common sense. It's not based on quick tricks or fancy games. It is based on the idea that you need to know certain basic facts in order to move onto critical thinking. I would encourage everyone (whether you're considering homeschooling or not) to take a look at how you can apply the ideas of classical education to enhance your child's learning experience(s).

I found these passages from Leigh A. Bortins book, "The Core," regarding memorization and establishing "mile posts" on which to build your childs knowledge especially meaningful:

The foundation of a classical education begins with parents teaching children the art of memorization and grammer studies. Some educators might dismiss rote memorization, but I argue that it is beneficial because it trains your brain to hold information.

From the moment that parents hold their baby in their arms a bonding process begins. They talk to the child; they introduce the sounds and names of the world around them to the baby through repetition. The mother and father of a newborn find no hardship in saying words like "I love you," or "Yes, I'm your mommy," in patient intonations over and over, a thousand times. By doing so, they baby begins to identify big ideas like warmth, hunger, kindness, and dinner with specific words and actions, thus developing a vocabulary. Yet somehow, in recent years educational theory has come to reject repetition as a good educational tool when it comes to mastering our multiplication tables or identifying geographic locations or learning the correct spelling of words. We accept that to be good at sports or music you must practice over and over until your fine motor skills become your gross motor skills meaning that you can play Tchaikovsky in your sleep! Over-practice implies enough repetition to make new skills seem easy and natural. Yet temporary education philosphies consider large amounts of rote practice to be unnecessary in academics.

Somewhere along the way, professional education associations decided that facts could be looked up, and so there was no point in memorizing them. Critical thinking skills and experiential learning replaced memorization as the main focus of grammar school instruction.

Though critical thinking skills and experiential learning are very valuable, the education associations forgot two things: first, that students needed to memorize information so they would have something in their brain to critically think about or to compare to their experiences, and, second, that the brain needs to be intentionally trained in order to think well. Thinking critically is not inherent in humans. It needs to be practiced repeatedly by comparing memorized ideas with new ideas in a logical manner. Internalizing a critical mass of words and ideas is a the first step to thinking well.
To help further understand the ideas of a classical education I have also taken excerpts from the Well Trained Mind website on classical education and written by Susan Wise Bauer:

Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In highschool years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.

A classical education, then, has two important aspects. It is language-focused. And it follows a specific three-part pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of facts, and finally equipped to express conclusions.

But that isn’t all. To the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. Astronomy (for example) isn’t studied in isolation; it’s learned along with the history of scientific discovery, which leads into the church’s relationship to science and from there to the intricacies of medieval church history. The reading of the Odyssey leads the student into the consideration of Greek history, the nature of heroism, the development of the epic, and man’s understanding of the divine.

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.

Classical education is, above all, systematic - in direct contrast to the scattered, unorganized nature of so much secondary education. Systematic study allows the student to join what Mortimer Adler calls the "Great Conversation" - the ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages. Much modern education is so eclectic that the student has little opportunity to make connections between past events and the flood of current information. "The beauty of the classical curriculum," writes classical schoolmaster David Hicks, "is that it dwells on one problem, one author, or one epoch long enough to allow even the youngest student a chance to exercise his mind in a scholarly way: to make connections and to trace developments, lines of reasoning, patterns of action, recurring symbolisms, plots, and motifs."

Read all of this and much more about classical education at http://www.welltrainedmind.com/

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