Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Classical Model of Education

If you homeschool, then Dorothy Sayers "The Lost Tools of Learning" is a valuable read. If you homeschool and participate in Classical Conversations, then it is an even more valuable read! I just finished reading this essay, and in it found why Classical Conversations is such a crucial program for our young ones, and as they grow up in this program.
There are three basic tenants to classical education: the grammar phase, the dialectic phase, and the rhetoric phase. I didn't always quite understand what classical education was, but these three tenants pretty much sum it up. The grammar phase is our Foundations program through CC, and it involves memorizing lots of facts and information, such as history sentences, history timeline, geography, Latin charts, math equations and formulas, English definitions and grouping of words, and science data. At first glance, it might seem unimportant to memorize all this information at such a young age when they don't understand half of what they are putting to memory. And mind you, a lot of the information is put to song, so the kids love it and it is easy to memorize, even for the parents!! And Classical Conversation's model is that a homeschool parent teaches all the subjects in the class, showing the parents that we can teach our children all the subjects, and we don't have to wait for or expect an "expert" to come teach our children these subjects, we can teach them!! And all this information is just one stage in the 3-part Trivium and all of these information "pegs" will be useful in the future as they begin to remember and interact with this information in the dialectic phase. This first stage is the knowledge phase, and is appropriate for the younger ages, approximately 4 years old through 6th grade.
The next phase is the dialectic phase, in which the child starts to interact with all that information that they memorized in the grammar phase. As they get older, they become old enough to think through this information, to start to question some of this information, and to have questions about life. This is where we can direct a child to ask appropriate, respectful questions and to discuss this information in a logical way. Students have a class on logic, learn to form their own arguments, and to dissolve illogical arguments. This is the understanding phase. The students wrestle with information, learn how to debate, and learn to form a solid foundation of truth, and not just to believe whatever they are told or hear. As stated in her essay, Dorothy says, "History, aided by a simple system of ethics derived from the grammar of theology, will provide much suitable material for discussion." They also learn to write essays, and to really be able to put their thoughts and knowledge into valid writing.
The final phase is the rhetoric phase, in which there is a lot more freedom as far as what they learn.
Another quote from her essay is as follows:
"Indeed, at this stage, our difficulty will be to keep subjects "apart," for Dialectic will have shown all branches of learning to be inter-related, so Rhetoric will tend to show that all knowledge is one."
This phase is the sort of culmination of the first two phases, as the student has learned the information, how to grapple with that information, and can then focus on more specialized fields of interest, stemming from his study of Theology, hopefully, and can even begin to study a language other than Latin. Throughout the Trivium, the student will learn the construction of the language of Latin, which will help him to not only learn other subjects well, but in itself is the derivation of many terms and words we used today in our language and other sciences.
Dorothy says, of her digesting through the Trivium, "I am concerned only with the proper training of the mind to encounter and deal with the formidable mass of undigested problems presented to it by the modern world." Because as she compares modern education, at the time this was written, with a sort of mediaeval education that she is trying to return to, she realizes that there will be some differences between the child with modern education and the child with a classical education, but the child with the classical education will, no doubt, be able to apply the tools of learning that they have received to any new study that they will encounter. They learn the integration of subjects, meaning that each subject relates to the other subjects as they all relate to God. There isn't such a hard divide between subjects where the student couldn't see how they worked together as part of the beauty of the creation of God.
So, I hope that this gives you a little glimpse into what classical education is, how Classical Conversations works and what they base their education model on. I didn't always understand what it even meant for someone to have a classical education, but now that I have learned more about it, I am astounded by how beautiful the Trivium works together and how the finished product, i.e., the student who has been trained by these 3 branches, is a wonderfully educated and cultured adult who has the tools to discern and interact with a world with lots of differing views and philosophies. We don't have to worry about the classically trained child, for they have found the lost tools of learning, and are hopefully able to take those with them wherever they go.

If interested, here is a link to Dorothy Sayers "The Lost Tools of Learning," from which this blog post was based off of, and where Classical Conversations gets its basis.

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