What is the ultimate goal of an authentic classical education? Six keys:
If you complete the classical curriculum, one day you’ll realize that your young adult is an extensive reader, critical thinker, engaging writer, and persuasive speaker…a fully equipped, refined citizen who has the potential to change his world on a grand scale.
Classical education equips ordinary men and women for extraordinary impact. Look at the world’s most influential thought leaders. Without exception, they were classically educated.
Consider Alexander the Great who was tutored by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, or Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, who studied the seven liberal arts. Even the Apostle Paul demonstrated mastery of classical rhetoric in his famous epistles.
Ambition. Devotion. Humility.
Medieval classical scholars included religious men like St. Augustine and Archbishop Thomas Becket, authors like Dante Alighieri and Shakespeare, and artists like Brunelleschi and Michelangelo.
Justice. Reality. Beauty.
In fact, classical education was the proven educational norm, so much so that this timeless philosophy of learning was scattered as far east as St. Petersburg, Russia and as far west as the New World. Civilized men and women learned this way.
What distinguishes people who lead from people who follow?
Influential women like Catherine the Great, Abigail Adams, and Beatrix Potter were classically educated by parents and governesses, as were scientifically minded Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale.
Progress. Integrity. Observation.
Colonial statesmen George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson received a classical education, as did some of the most famous military commanders of modern times including Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert E. Lee, and Douglas MacArthur.
Revolution. Rights. Strategy.
Whether statesmen, philosophers, politicians, judges, military commanders, authors, engineers, scientists, or musicians, people who have been classically educated understand the persuasive power of ideas.
Ideas have power. The one who controls the ideas, controls the culture.
If you want to prepare your kids for leadership, then classical education is the right homeschooling method for you.
To the ancient Greeks, learning was the path to a higher nature through the exploration of timeless, abstract concepts like truth, goodness, and beauty. Knowledge and understanding were highly valued. The rigors of this mental discipline lead to noble character, gracious behavior, enlightened minds, and enriched society.
In short, an educated man was a thinking man, and a thinking man was a better citizen.
Like the Greeks, the Romans valued knowledge, but being pragmatists, they knew that in order to realize the benefits of classical education, the philosophy needed a teaching framework.
So they introduced the seven liberal arts, or academic pursuits, which represented the essential verbal and numerical skills for free Romans.
Thus, the classical education philosophy became an achievable, skills-based curriculum, or course of study, pursued by Western men and women for nearly two millennia.
The classical curriculum of the liberal arts included two consecutive phases: the trivium (3 verbal skills) and the quadrivium (4 numeric skills).
Academic discipline # 1, the classical trivium, was taught concurrently with a goal of skills mastery, or as the Latin word trivium accurately translates, the intersection of three roads. Each road represented an intellectual verbal skill: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Since the three language pursuits were co-dependent, they were taught together in the early years of the child’s life.
Mastering grammar skills meant learning the system of rules that governed the native language. To the ancient Greco-Roman world, the vernacular languages were Attic Greek and Latin. The art of grammar included the mastery of the alphabet, handwriting, spelling, reading, declensions, and conjugation. The child who mastered Greek and Latin grammar was able to use the language to full potential.
Mastering the art of logic meant learning how to think with an emphasis on the operations necessary for clear, critical analysis. Remember, logic was a skill-set, so the child learned the tools of thinking (syllogism, induction, deduction, observation, fallacies) so that he could later apply these skills to the reality of whatever abstract ideas he wanted to explore in thought, writing, or speech.
Mastering classical rhetoric, also known as the art of oratory, meant learning how to invent, arrange, style, memorize, and deliver speeches with persuasive eloquence. Stylistic devices made boring debates compelling, so the student learned three appeals (ethical, logical, and emotional) and figurative language like parallelism and alliteration.
Mastery of the three verbal skills preceded the study of the numerical skills, known as the quadrivium or four roads. During the second phase of the seven liberal arts, the student mastered arithmetic, geometry, music theory, and astronomy.
By the completion of the classical curriculum, the student had acquired the essential intellectual skills to understand and communicate about any fundamental truth of life.
The ancient Greek education ideal…that of an enlightened, mature mind…became a reality back then, and it can become a reality now in your own homeschool.
Classical education is a system for learning how to think and communicate about big ideas.
But as the classical curriculum demonstrates, before the student can effectively wrestle with life’s most important ideas, he needs to master certain intellectual tools, the verbal and numeric skills.
What about today? Can a contemporary homeschooling parent give her child an authentic classical education? Absolutely!
The ancient skills of the classical curriculum are still essential for the educated man or woman. In fact, when you teach skills in the early years instead of subjects, you will maximize your teaching time, and accelerate your child’s learning.
Here’s how you do it:
In grades k-7/8, focus on SKILLS MASTERY, not subjects
In grades 9-12, focus on SUBJECTS, especially the Humanities where big ideas reside.
So to review, how do you homeschool classically? Spend the early years from birth to ‘tween teaching your child three essential skills. After your ‘tween has substantially mastered the classical trivium, you’ll craft unique high school courses for transcript credit that expose him to the big ideas expressed in the classics of the Western Canon.
Learn more about a classical high school education.
Although the final objective of an authentic classical education is knowledge that leads to understanding about life’s greatest truths, the irony is that classical teaching methods use open-ended questions.
In other words, classical educators acknowledge that there are timeless, absolute truths in life, but we respect the process of self-discovery that every learner must employ to arrive at the truth. In that way, a classical education is all about interpretation of meaning.
When you were a child, you learned the 5 W questions and the 1 H question: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
All six questions, whether factual (who, what, where, and when) or interpretive (why and how) are necessary tools of a classical education; however, instead of telling the child what to think, your role as the classical teacher is to lead him into his own understanding of reality.
How do you do this? You use the following classical methods:
Unless you’re a practicing attorney, you probably haven’t had a lot of experience in using Socratic Dialogue, a classical method for asking leading questions.
Think of a courtroom trial and the deposition of a witness. In asking questions, the lawyer is trying to arrive at the facts of the case. He has a plan. That is, he knows where he wants to end up, and he leads the witness to his destination by the questions he asks and the answers the witness gives.
Just like the trial attorney, you need to know the facts before you can ask useful leading questions that will bring your homeschooling child to self-discovery and understanding. Unless you’re already an expert on the subject matter, you need to prepare your questions in advance.
When you child is young and unskilled, start with factual questions about the topic. Once the facts have been established, move on to interpretive questions (what do the facts mean?) As your child matures and becomes more skillful, ask contextual (how is this related to other things he knows?) and hypothetical questions (what if?). To summarize, the progression of Socratic questions moves from easy to difficult:
Level 1 Qs – factual (the answers are in the text)
Level 2 Qs – interpretive (there is evidence in the text to support more than one position)
Level 3 Qs – contextual (pull in extra-textual connections, experiences, or knowledge)
Level 4 Qs – hypothetical (conjecture; multiple pieces of evidence in the text require piecing together)
Remember, classical methods have a proven track record. If you use them, they will help you raise kids who master the English language, apply sound reasoning to problem-solving, and communicate clearly in writing and speech.
In the early years of classical homeschooling (grades k-7/8), classical methods are more important than classical content. Your immediate goal is skills mastery, and that can be taught using any quality content.
If you adopt an authentic classical education, you can completely customize the teaching content. As you know, the classical curriculum (course of study) is teaching verbal and numeric skills to substantial mastery. There is no required content…there are only required skills.
This means that you can pull content that resonates with the interests, gifts, abilities, and passions of your unique child. You can also tailor the content to your own family’s story, themes, and goals.
If you like the security of text and workbooks, feel free to use them as your teaching resource. Maybe you enjoy learning with hands-on activities or field trips. Apprenticeships, internships, documentaries, recorded lectures, videos, classic literature, unit studies…any variety of content can be used in the service of teaching the essential intellectual skills.
When you’re drafting your homeschooling plans, select the content you want with the goal of bringing your child to skills mastery. Knowledge will accumulate regardless of what content you teach.