What Is Classical Education?
For most of western history, education was mostly inspired by and founded upon the classical approach to education. The ancient Greeks (and later the Romans) understood that character development was the most essential component of education; that understanding informed their approach to education. The classical approach of education wasn’t about teaching skills, but focused on shaping hearts and minds.
What is classical education? Classical education is an approach to education, inspired by ancient Greek culture and philosophy, that seeks to train students to be noble citizens and good critical thinkers. It is more concerned with character development than skills training, structured to emphasize the development of the whole child. Classical education emphasizes the study of the great books. These books are ancient works that have stood the test of time, have been well-respected by scholars, and are still relevant today. Classical education goes beyond facts, figures, and dates, but focuses on ideas, values, morals, and ethics.
Classical education is primarily founded on three key components: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Together they are known as the Trivium.
Grammar: This discipline aims to teach students how to read carefully and thoughtfully. Grammar involves recognizing the essential elements of language, including nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Students also learn about sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, and word origins and meanings. Students are not merely learning words, they are learning the etymology of words and the philosophy of language.
Logic: Logic teaches students how to make arguments in an organized fashion. Students learn to recognize fallacious arguments and inconsistent argument constructions. Students practice evaluating the premises, theses, and conclusions of others to apply skills.
Rhetoric: This deals with effective communication through speaking or writing in a compelling way that supports one’s argumentative points or positions on an issue or topic at hand, for example, persuasion, persuasion techniques, and public speaking, among others. Students will retain and better understand concepts they’ve discussed and defended, therefore having students practice their rhetorical skills is a great means of cementing what they’ve learned but also helps them learn how to make strong cohesive arguments.
The Classical Christian Revival
Classical education is how students were educated in America until the late 1800s. However, American education changed dramatically with the advent of the modern progressive movement in the early 20th century.
Decades after this progressive movement changed the landscape of American education, notable writers such C.S. Lewis, Mortimer Adler, and Dorothy Sayers wrote about the devastating impact that this progressive movement would eventually have on western societies.
These writings helped to inspire many Christian leaders to pioneer classical Christian schools. It’s turned into a significant movement across the country.
What is classical Christian education? Classical Christian education is a pedagogical marriage between the classical approach and Christian theological studies. Proponents of classical Christian education often strategically incorporate child phase development methods into their pedagogy. Classical Christian education is a time-tested educational approach which establishes a biblical worldview in students by studying the greatest books of history in light of the greatest book—the Bible.
Classical education itself is not necessarily dependent upon the Christian religion or religious ideology. There are plenty of non-religious classical schools across America. However, even non-religious classical schools often include religious works such as the Bible, early Christian primary source materials, and Christian philosophers from the Middle Ages.
Many classical Christian schools focus on developing a Christian worldview in their students through an integration of the trivium, classical principles, and Christian catechisms. This teaches students how to think critically about the world around them and how to use their knowledge to make informed decisions that will honor Christ and enrich the society in which they live.
There are several organizations of classical Christian schools. The largest and best known is the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS). They offer training resources, accreditation, certifications, conferences, and networking opportunities. There are more than 400 schools affiliated with the ACCS across the United States. Well-known (and sometimes controversial) pastor and author Doug Wilson has been a huge proponent of ACCS and has been one of the most influential leaders in the contemporary classical Christian movement.
There are also dozens of home school curriculums that are informed by classical education principles. Probably the best known is Classic Conversations. In addition to offering a robust curriculum, they also facilitate co-op groups for home school students; typically students meet once per week with other students in their region to discuss their learning.
Benefits of Classical Education
Classical education has many benefits for children. The greatest (overall) benefit is the focus on character development. Classical education is crafted with the aim of shaping hearts and minds, helping students develop into noble citizens. Here’s some of the other great benefits to classical education.
Vocabulary and Reading Skills
According to recent studies, 67-78% of American students cannot read at their proper grade level. That’s heartbreaking. With classical education, that simply doesn’t happen. Classical education has a reputation for being academically rigorous, with good accountability. Students don’t fall through the cracks and they don’t fall behind in their reading levels either.
Writing Skills Development
Classical education helps develop a child’s writing skills by encouraging them to write stories, reflections, poetry, and long letters. It also teaches them how to organize their thoughts and put them into words using correct grammar rules.
One of the greatest elements of classical education, which is often one of the most overlooked elements, is the aim to shape affections. Classical education is not merely indoctrination. Classical education curriculums are often crafted with the goal of helping students see the things that they ought to love and appreciate.
Tragically, in our modern society, lots of people love things that ought not love. But proponents of classical education often understand that in order to develop kids into being successful citizens those kids need to grow up into adults that love the things that good citizens love. Classical Christian education especially often incudes initiatives that inspire young people to have a genuine love and affection for the biblical worldview and Christian way of life.
Classical education gives children an opportunity to express themselves through artwork, music, and drama. They can learn how to work with others by collaborating on projects or acting out roles together in plays or musical performances. This helps develop important social skills.
A Wholistic View of the World
Classical education involves learning how to think critically and reason, how to read and write well, and how to analyze information and solve problems. The value of classical education lies in its ability to teach students how to think critically and reason logically. Students will understand complex ideas and arguments presented in various ways. They will learn how to solve problems using logic and reasoning skills. As a result, they will be better equipped for life after high school or college.
In addition, classical education focuses on developing good study habits by teaching students how to manage their time effectively, prioritize tasks and manage stress. These habits can make it easier for students to complete assignments promptly during class time or at home after school hours.
Becoming Strong Writers and Speakers
Classical education is considered to be a strong foundation for the development of writing and speaking skills. This is because classical education focuses on developing the ability to write, speak, think critically, and analytically. Students learn the etymology of the words and the philosophy of language to master language. The main goal of classical education is to develop the ability of students in writing, speaking, and thinking skills. The key element of classical education is the relationship between what is being taught and how it can be applied in daily life.
While many people believe that classical education is only about reading, writing, and arithmetic, many other advantages come with it. One of these advantages is the ability to speak clearly and effectively. To become a good speaker, one must learn how to write well. This will allow them to understand any topic they want to discuss or share their thoughts about something without making any mistakes that could confuse others listening or reading their work.
Learners Receive Foundation of Usable Information
Classical education provides a foundation of usable information, which is helpful for both learners and society. The knowledge gained from this foundation will help them in their future careers because it helps them better understand life and the world around them.
Classical education teaches students about history, science, art, and culture. These subjects help them make informed decisions about what they should do in their lives and how they should act towards others around them. It also teaches students how to be good citizens of their country by participating in social activities like volunteering at community clubs or helping out at charity events such as blood drives or food drives for hungry people in need of assistance.
Prepares Learners to Analyze Data Intelligently
Classical education is a great way to prepare students for careers where they must analyze and interpret data. This is especially true if they plan on working in finance, engineering, or biology fields.
Classical education prepares students to think critically about the world around them. It teaches them how to use logic, reason, and language effectively. Classical education also emphasizes the importance of critical thinking and analysis over memorization and rote learning.
Students who have been through a classical education will be more prepared than others when analyzing data intelligently because they have been taught how to do so at a young age.
The Socratic Method of Teaching
The Socratic Method is a philosophy and method of teaching in which questions are posed to students to stimulate critical thinking. The technique was developed by Plato, who believed that the human mind could only develop through education by questioning things.
This method is used in many schools today in classical education institutions. In these institutions, students are taught to think critically and examine the world around them with their minds rather than blindly accepting what others say. This method encourages students to question everything and work out for themselves what things mean, rather than just taking someone else’s word for it.
An Understanding of Humanities Formative Ideas and Beliefs
The main aim of classical education is to teach people about their past and future generations through history, literature, and science. It also helps develop their personality by understanding all human emotions and feelings. Classical education helps develop our thinking skills by making us aware of what we need to learn to become good citizens of this world.
Classical education teaches students different aspects like history, literature, and science, which are very important for our future generation because they will be able to use these skills in their daily life if they have developed their minds according to social norms and values present at that time or even before that period when they were born in this world. Classical education also helps students understand that many things are happening outside them, which affect them directly or indirectly. They should be aware of these things around them to make proper decisions.
Focus on Great Books and Classics
The great books of Western Civilization are an essential part of classical education. These books are considered classics because they have stood the test of time; they have been studied for centuries by people worldwide.
Classical education is based on reading and writing great books and classics. The benefits are many for children:
- Great books can teach children about life in general. They can teach them values, morals, and humanity and develop their critical thinking skills.
- Classical authors can teach children about their culture and heritage by encouraging them to investigate their background, family tree, and heritage. The stories they read will also encourage them to explore other cultures through reading other books from the same genre or even different genres altogether!
- Children will learn how to read easily by reading books that are easy to understand and enjoy at all times (e.g., fairy tales).
Opportunities for Personalization
Classical education is a system based on the principle that children should be educated in a way that allows them to develop their minds. It is based on the idea that each child is different and thus will learn at his or her own pace.
Classical education offers students the opportunity to learn tailored to their needs. All students have different learning styles and strengths, which explains why one student may excel in an art class while another struggle in math. Through classical education, students can develop these skills and talents.
For example, some students learn best through direct instruction, while others need more teacher guidance. In the traditional classroom setting, teachers are often forced to teach all their lessons at once or use a lecture format that does not allow student participation or interaction. The classical education model allows for a more personalized approach by enabling teachers to tailor their lessons based on each student’s needs.
Classical Education Model Nictitates Accountability
The classical education model provides an environment where the students are given a lot of responsibility, and the teachers are expected to provide them with guidance and help. The classical education model has been proven to be the most effective way of teaching students because it offers students more opportunities to learn, practice, and apply knowledge. The students are given chances to work individually or in groups depending on their level of interest. This approach is also known as project-based learning, which allows students to work on real-life challenges by applying knowledge learned in class in different ways, such as creating a presentation on a topic, writing a research paper, or even conducting an independent research project.
Classical education creates an environment where students can develop their skills by working independently or collaboratively with classmates. When they use these skills in the real world, they get to apply them by solving problems or finding solutions rather than memorizing facts that may not be relevant when they enter college or university years later.
Footnotes: Kathryn Starke, “Why are Some Students Behind in Reading Skills?”, Graduate Programs for educators, Inc., June 15, 2021, https://www.graduateprogram.org/2021/06/why-are-some-students-behind-in-reading-skills.
Kenneth E. Ortiz (M.Div.) is a professor and recruiter at Bethlehem College and a pastor at Cities Church. He has 15+ years of vocational ministry experience. He’s also a podcaster, author, and Ph.D. student. Kenneth lives in Bloomington, MN with his wife Malaina, they have one daughter.