“By WISDOM a house is built, 

and through UNDERSTANDING it is established; 

through KNOWLEDGE its rooms are filled

with rare and beautiful treasures.”

Proverbs 24:3-4

In classical education, we lay down a foundation of knowledge through facts and principles, the “WHATS,” with the hopes of stirring up curiosity and a sense of wonder.  This leads a child to grow in their will to work and enables the teacher to  move to instructing the student deeper-  comparing, contrasting, sorting and reconciling ideas in the quest of understanding, the “WHYS,” Once the walls, roof and doors of understanding are established over the previously laid foundation of knowledge, then, finally, the house can begin to be adorned with wisdom, the precious jewels. (Classical Christian Education, p. 27)

Classical education is like a very large museum with many beautiful, wonder-filled rooms that could be studied over a lifetime. It is a long tradition of education that has emphasized the seeking after of truth, goodness, and beauty and the study of the liberal arts and the great books. This approach to education also includes the study of Latin. The classical approach teaches students how to learn and how to think. It is this approach to teaching students based on their developmental stage that makes this approach so very effective. It is precisely this kind of education that has produced countless great leaders, inventors, scientists, writers, philosophers, theologians, physicians, lawyers, artists, and musicians over the centuries.

In short, a classical approach...

  • Aspires to cultivate virtue and wisdom and the formation of the soul which is grounded in piety and guided by theology

  • Seeks after truth, goodness and beauty

  • Desires to foster a lifelong love of learning 

  • Uses the 7 Liberal Arts (in the traditional sense, not the contempory sense), which are the trivium (liberal arts) and the quadrivium (mathematical arts)

  • Supports an integrated curriculum, all ideas are interconnected, and does not approach learning through standalone “subjects”

  • Teaches Latin.  (Why Latin?) and / or other classical languages (Greek / Hebrew)

  • Shares in the reading of the great books as a means of interacting with the past and fostering a formation of the human soul

  • Teaches the student how to learn and how to think, not what to think

  • The ultimate end of Classical Christian education is to enable the student to better know, glorify, and enjoy God (CIRCE Institute)

What Makes Classical Education so Effective?

It is largely because of its approach to how and when students are taught. Regardless of their learning style, children learn in three phases or stages (grammar, logic or dialectic, and rhetoric), known as the trivium. In fact, this is how we learn anything new in our life. In the grammar stage (K–6), students are naturally adept at memorizing through songs, chants, and rhymes. If you can get children in this stage to sing or chant something, they will remember it for a lifetime. In the dialectic or logic stage (grades 7–9), young adult students are naturally more argumentative and begin to question authority and facts. They want to know the “why” of something—the logic behind it. During this stage, students learn reasoning, informal and formal logic, and how to argue with wisdom and eloquence. The rhetoric stage (grades 10–12) is naturally when students become independent thinkers and communicators. They study and practice rhetoric, which is the art of persuasive speaking and effective writing that pleases and delights the listener. Again, it is this approach to teaching students based on their developmental stage that makes this approach so very effective.

These Phases Align With How All People Learn

However, each of these phases can be present throughout the developmental stages as children grow and learn as well. For example, when a child is first learning to read they are at the grammar stage, memorizing the letters and phonic sounds. He then moves to the dialectic stage, putting together sounds to make words, sentences, paragraphs and read books, comparing and categorizing word groups and spelling rules. Lastly, he moves to the rhetoric stage, expressing his own thoughts in writing and maybe even beginning to explain and teach what he knows to younger siblings.

If Classical Education is so Effective, Why Did it Disappear?

Classical education never really disappeared, but it did diminish starting around 1900 with the advent of progressive education. In an effort to restore this most proven form of education, one that has been in place for thousands of years prior to the turn of the 20th century, the K–12 liberal arts tradition has been being renewed and expanded again over the last thirty years. More than 500 classical schools (including private and charter schools) have started during that time, and tens of thousands of homeschooling families are educating with the classical approach.

Would you like to go deeper in your understanding of classical education? Enjoy the first three videos of this Introduction to Classical Education course below with Dr. Perrin for free!

Additional Resources