What is Classical Education?

Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind.  The early years of school are spent absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study.  In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments.  In the high school years, they learn to express themselves.

In the 1940’s the British author, Dorothy Sayers, wrote an essay titled The Lost Tools of Learning.  In it she not only calls for a return to the application of the seven liberal arts of ancient education, the first three being the “Trivium”--grammar, logic, and rhetoric, she also combines three stages of children’s development to the Trivium.  Specifically, she matches what she calls the “Poll-parrot” stage with grammar, “Pert” with logic, and “Poetic” with rhetoric.

An excerpt from Susan Wise Bauer’s book, “The Well-Trained Mind”

“The first years of schooling are called the “grammar stage”.-not because you spend four years doing English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid, just as grammar is the foundation for language.  In the elementary school years-what we commonly think of as grades one through four-the mind is ready to absorb information.  Children at this age actually find memorization fun.  So during this period, education involves not self-expression or self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts.  Rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics-the list goes on.”

A very helpful resource is An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents by Dr. Christopher Perrin. In this concise book, Dr. Perrin outlines the history of classical education and answers many questions parents have about this proven educational model.

An excerpt from Doug Wilson’s book, “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning:”

“The logic of each subject refers to the ordered relationship of that subject’s particulars (grammar). What is the relationship between the Reformation and the colonization of America?  What is the relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence?  As the students learn the underlying rules or principals of a subject (grammar) along with how the particulars of that subject relate to another (logic), they are learning to think.  They are not simply memorizing fragmented pieces of knowledge.

The last emphasis of a classical education is rhetoric.  Students are able to express clearly everything they learn.  An essay in history must be written as clearly as if it were an English paper.  An oral presentation in science should be as coherent as possible.  It is not enough that the history or science be correct.  It must also be expressed well.”

Below are some resources that will help you better understand the history of classical education and its many strengths. Classical education does not exist outside of the ultimate authority, God's word. Cornerstone is dedicated foremost to the teaching of God's word in the context of a unique classical educational model.

The Association of Classical and Christian Schools ACCS) is the accrediting body for classical Christian schools across the country.  Cornertone is a member of ACCS. ACCS provides important teacher educational services and collects data on school performance.

The Classical Difference This is a publication by ACCS designed to provide additional information about the many benefits of classical Christian education.

Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education, by Douglas Wilson

A Compelling Reason for Rigorous Training of the Mind, by John Piper