Classical High School

Diane's Quick-Start Guide

Learn the Essentials of Classical High School

During the tween years, your homeschool child will reach trivium mastery. Your k-7/8 teaching strategies for teaching skills have been realized, and it's time for classical high school.  How do you take the very best of classical education philosophy while creating a high school transcript that complies with state law? How does daily reading, discussion, and writing shape a classical scholar during the high school years?  Where will you go next?


-- Classical Philosophy --

What's the classical high school philosophy?

Now that your tween has substantially reached trivium mastery, your classical education philosophy will shift from the k-8 strategies for teaching three skills to a disciplined, but guided, independent study program where your teen explores and interprets life’s most profound, abstract ideas. The academic playground for this intellectual wrestling match is typically the classic literature of the Western Canon, and the leading questions of the Socratic method are the swing sets and slides on which he plays.

Since he now has the essential academic skills to learn anything, he moves beyond trivium mastery to the rigors of close reading, inductive analysis, lively discussion, interpretive hermeneutics, contextual considerations, and extensive research for the purpose of gaining knowledge, understanding, and the beginnings of wisdom.

What is the classical philosophy? First you (or a substitute mentor) teach the homeschool teen how to do a close reading of the text. Together, you'll look for themes, patterns, and morals that teach timeless truths about what it means to be human. For the homeschool curriculum, you’ll choose from the books, art, architecture, and science of the Western Canon, which primarily include humanities…those academic disciplines that study human culture like literature, history, philosophy, architecture, art, music, and religion.

Through close examination, he’ll learn how to perform inductive analysis drawing conclusions about facts, principles, relationships, connections, while noting personal responses to the material or questions that the examination provokes.

The classical teaching method of ancient Greek and Rome always involved a master and an apprentice. The master taught the student through study of classic epics, open-ended questions, imitation, repetition, recitation, memorization, and oratory. Named after the one-on-one dialogues of Socrates and his apprentices, the open-ended leading questions always foster lively discussion, challenge conventional attitudes, and require persuasive argumentation.

When your homeschool teen begins to dig deeply into these timeless ideas, you’ll teach him how to develop his own interpretive hermeneutic, that is his own method or theory of interpretation so that he’s consistent in applying his chosen method across all literary genres, historical times, and geographical locations.

Additionally, you’ll teach him how to consider the historical context for every piece of classic literature he reads so that he interprets it in light of not only his own time and culture, but also the time and culture in which the author, inventor, artist, or scientist lived.

Finally, your rising classical high school scholar will perform extensive research to supplement the Western Canon so that he gains a fuller understanding of the dynamics behind the thought.

The classical philosophy demands a rigorous academic homeschool curriculum, but pays off with the supreme satisfaction of having studied the thoughts of some of Western Civilization’s most deep thinkers to arrive at an initial, personal understanding of meaningful ideas through daily reading, daily discussion, and daily writing.

By the time your teen graduates from classical high school, he’ll be an extensive reader, critical thinker, engaging writer, and persuasive speaker…a fully engaged, refined citizen who has the potential to influence his culture with winsome skill.

Does the classical philosophy appeal to you?


-- Classical Curriculum --

What does a typical classical high school curriculum include?

Now that you understand the educational philosophy for classical high school, it’s time to come down from the esoteric clouds and get to the nitty-gritty of crafting the classical homeschool curriculum that uniquely meets the needs of your teen while complying with the legal requirements of your state.

So first let’s tackle the easy part…the statutory requirements. By the time your teen graduates from classical high school, you’ll need to document a minimum number of credits across four disciplines: English, math, science, and social studies. Check your own state laws for diploma details, but nearly every college expects to see 4 English credits, 3-4 Math credits, 3-4 Science credits, 2 Social Studies credits with the remainder of credits going to Foreign Language or electives. So what you have to do is conform with the state law while customizing the classical content to your family’s specific interests.

How can you tailor the content of classical education and come up with a homeschool curriculum that uniquely suits the abilities and interests of your teen? The broad wealth of classic literature, art, music, and architecture in the Western Canon makes customizing curriculum exciting.

Maybe your son has a propensity to use his hands in building machines. Why have him read a boring textbook when he, like Brunelleschi (architect of the Florence, Italy Duomo) can read the ancient thoughts and study the diagrams of the classic architect Vetruvius?

You may have a daughter who is artistically inclined; select content from the great masters of the Renaissance to study like Raphael, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci. Have her study the works, imitate the works, and read definitive biographies about the artists.

Do you have a future thespian in your home? Let him plumb the depths of works of Homer, Vergil, Shakespeare, and other poets.

Perhaps your teen is interested in industrial design. Give him Euclid’s Geometry (the classic and primary source), a geometry textbook (the survey which is a secondary source) and a CAD-CAM computer program for designing shapes (so that he can get hands-on experience at applying the principles he’s learning.

Surely you see that the potential for customization is only limited by your vision of your family themes and your teen’s interests!

Here’s how to create a classical high school course:

  1. decide what ideas/classics you want your teen to learn about
  2. find topical surveys to research the classic and the historical context surrounding the geography, culture, author
  3. create discussion questions by starting with factual questions (who/what/when/where) and moving to open-ended questions (interpretive, hypothetical)
  4. draft writing and speaking prompts from the discussion questions
  5. come up with a hands-on research project (like recreating a 3D item from the classic)

Decide who will supervise your teen in the daily discipline of tackling meaningful ideas. Will it be you, your husband, a friend, a neighbor, or a hired tutor in the specialty area like Socrates to supplement your teaching? Online courses, dual-credit university classes, and specialty camps compliment the daily dialogue going on in your home.

Read, discuss, write, and speak about the big ideas of life on a daily basis. Allow the ongoing dialogue to drive the direction of your high school homeschooling plan.

When you're ready, sit down with your teen, and plan the classical curriculum together.

For Further Reading

Teaching Resources

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-- Classical Rhetoric --

What are the canons of classical rhetoric?

Established in the ancient Greco-Roman world, classical education is a popular homeschooling method for learning how to speak persuasively about life’s biggest ideas.

What is true? What is good? What is beautiful?

What we think about life, what we value and what we abhor…these eternally significant thoughts influence our choices.

As a homeschooling parent, you have a monumental teaching responsibility ahead of prepare your teen for adulthood where the big ideas that were important when you were a young adult may not be the same big ideas that he encounters when he is a young adult.

Entire cultures are moved by ideas, and although the ideas themselves are timeless, the way we interpret them shifts with popular sentiment. If you want your teen to remain steady in the belief system that he inherits, you need to immerse him in the practical application of classical rhetoric so that he approaches every idea with courage and confidence.

If you’ve been classically homeschooling for any length of time, you’ve probably already introduced the five canons of classical rhetoric, the three persuasive appeals, and the three occasions for speech. Now that your teen is more mature and disciplined, it’s time to take his mastery of classical rhetoric to a new level.

Daily practice at using the classical rhetorical tools of invention, arrangement, style, memorization, and delivery should be perfected during the classical high school years. When you assign a piece of classic literature for a close reading, also assign a narrative essay, research paper, or persuasive speech.

Remind your classical high school student to include ethical, logical, and emotional appeals during the invention stage, and help him document his claims with strong research skills and hefty evidence to support his thesis.

Classical rhetoric is the cornerstone of communication skills for leaders.


-- High School Transcript --

What goes on the classical high school transcript?

In establishing a long-term strategy, create a mock high school transcript to guide your homeschool curriculum selections. Once you have the big picture for the exploration of meaningful ideas, squeeze the classical content into a format that would easily satisfy college admissions officers while complying with state laws.

To illustrate, create a social studies credit called “Greek Civ,” and read a survey to get the historical context of the ideas that are expressed in the actual histories written by Herodotus and Thucydides. Add some of Plutarch’s biographies of ancient Greek statesmen. So you’ll have three texts in the homeschool curriculum for this academic honors credit: the classic, the survey, and the bio. You can read critical selections of the classic, or the whole thing.

Basically, decide with your teen what ideas or texts he wants to study. Pick the classics, and name your high school course.

Supplement your teaching with a few classes taught by other masters outside the family. College admissions committees want to see a high school transcript and college application that demonstrates your teen performed well under the instruction of someone other than his mother.

Earning the unbiased letter grade of an independent teacher is a huge accomplishment which benefits your teen while showing that he’s not too dependent on you. Plus the A grade from the local university substantiates the authenticity of the A grades that mom gives.

So the high school transcript is comprised of:

  • academic results including the course title, grade, number of credits, and GPA
  • standardized test scores like the SAT, ACT, SAT II subject tests, and AP scores
  • extracurricular activities
  • honors and awards beginning with national distinctions and moving on to local recognition
  • employment or community service

A high school transcript demonstrating the rigors of a classical education as well as the ability to serve the community and achieve notoriety for honorable merit will really catch the attention of college admissions officers.

What will you put on your teen's high school transcript to distinguish him from his peers?


-- College Prep --

How do homeschoolers prepare for college?

If your homeschool teen completes the rigors of the classical curriculum, he will most definitely be prepared for college. At the university level, massive books are read in half the time that a high school student is allowed to complete the book, so your classical scholar will already be accomplished at reading difficult vocabulary, complicated sentence structures, and complex ideas. Plus since classical secondary education is so unusual, your teen will stand out from the crowd with an impressive high school transcript and classic literature reading list.

Extensive writing is also mandatory in college, so spend the classical high school years getting ready by assigning regular essays and research papers using the conventions of classical rhetoric. Continue requiring regular impromptu and extemporaneous speeches every week so that he is ready to respond thoughtfully and skillfully in class when called on by the professor. Perpetual practice reinforces good organization skills for arranging his ideas on the spot.

During high school, try to negotiate a customized internship or apprenticeship in his area of ability, interest, or passion. If you can’t find a ready-made opportunity, let him create his own by starting a part-time business. Sampling industries now will give him better clarity when he has to choose a career, and it demonstrates industry since his high school transcript will show he was able to work hard while keeping up his grades.

Speaking of grades, most academic scholarship committees look for GPAs in the B+ to A range, so make sure your teen qualifies before applying. Most applications require extensive writing of personal essays which can be a real time drain unless it’s financially worth the effort. Repurpose college and scholarship essays when possible to save time and effort.

What can you do now to prepare your teen for college?


-- Study Skills --

What study skills are needed for a successful homeschool high school experience?

If you’ve been teaching your homeschool child the note-taking methods of narrative writing, then your years of regular drill will reap the benefits of advanced study skills. Your teen knows how to perform a close reading of the text, take notes, annotate in the margins, and write a short abstract of the key ideas. After he completes a chapter, have him reduce all his notes to a one-page summary which will make studying for oral or written exams easier.

Daily Socratic Q & A sessions with you and inductive analysis have prepared him for the hard work of interpreting meaning and coming to his own understanding of what they mean. Teach him to identify the facts, principles, and themes in the classic text or lecture.

Teach your teen the 80/20 rule: 80% of the exam content comes from the most important 20% of the material. If he masters that 20%, he’ll at least score a low B on the exam. If he masters more than 20%, he’ll do even better. Have him prepare for exams by teaching others what he knows about the material; this will point out deficiencies in his knowledge so that he can go back and shore up his understanding.

Using notecards to memorize important statistics and vocabulary is a good study skill to practice. It’s easy to quickly run through the cards and stack them according to mastery or needs more attention. Assign writing and speaking prompts to further articulate understanding, and have him synthesize multiple texts for a high school course.

Just like any other habit, cultivating good study skills takes time and regular practice. Don’t just absorb the material…do something constructive with it to demonstrate knowledge and understanding to reap the maximum benefits of an authentic classical high school education.

Is your teen good at note-taking and other study skills?