Where did Classical education come from?

“Classical education” is actually a modern term used to describe what was once simply called education.  The term was birthed out of modern day educators asking what type of education those from past generations received that created the type of faith, character, integrity, thinking ability, speaking ability, and skills that produced great leaders and individuals.  The driving passion has always been to give our children the very best education and upbringing that we possibly can.   The revival of classical Christian education is fluid; it’s always growing and maturing as a form of education.  Classical education is like a very large museum with many beautiful, wonder-filled rooms that could be studied over a lifetime. It’s a long tradition of education that has emphasized seeking the truth, goodness, beauty, and the study of the liberal arts and the great books. What are the liberal arts? They are grammar, logic, rhetoric (the verbal arts of the trivium), arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (the mathematical arts of the quadrivium). This approach to education also includes the study of Latin.  The classical approach teaches students how to learn, how to think, and come up with their own thoughts and arguments vs. regurgitating what they are told.

What makes Classical education so effective?

The approach is successful 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 the grammar stage (K–5), 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 6–9), teen aged 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 9–12) 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’s this approach to teaching students based on their developmental stage that makes this approach so very effective, and this kind of education that has produced countless great leaders, inventors, scientists, writers, philosophers, theologians, physicians, lawyers, artists, and musicians over the centuries. 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, the K–12 liberal arts tradition has been renewed and expanded again over the last thirty years. More than 500 classical schools have started during that time, and tens of thousands of homeschooling families are educating with the classical approach.

To understand how we express a Classical Christian education at Fortis Academy, it’s helpful to understand the primary objectives:

  • Christian faith
  • Critical thinking ability
  • Character development
  • Ability to communicate and persuade through writing and oratory
  • Proficiency in a wide area of subjects
  • Ability to be self-learning (understanding of the grammar, logic and rhetoric of any body of knowledge)
  • To engage in the great conversation

All of the Classical methods are important and valuable, but we need to be very intentional on how we implement them to make sure that we are always meeting our objectives. These methods include but are not limited to:

  • Phonics based reading and writing instruction.
  • Narration
  • Dictation and copy work
  • Memory Work
  • Mastery and usage (as opposed to cyclical/repetition)
  • Facilitated discussion and Socratic dialogue
  • Lecture
  • Writing
  • Oratory

We also have to keep in mind that there is a difference between mastering a body of knowledge and developing skills.  Reading, writing and arithmetic are skills as are critical thinking and oration.  These skills are of primary importance throughout the whole education of our children. Specialization in a body of knowledge is secondary.  For example, reading, writing , oration, critical thinking and Socratic dialogue skills can be developed in a history or literature class equally.   One of the unique elements of a Classical Christian education is an emphasis on Christian thinking, faith, and character in all of our classes.  This is the emphasis of Fortis Academy, to use Classical methods with Christian faith and principles weaved together to achieve a Classical Christian education that prepares your students for life, both spiritually and academically.