A Classical Education in Today’s World
We spend a good amount of time explaining what this means to current as well as prospective parents. Words like trivium, grammar, logic, and rhetoric sound almost alien, old-fashioned, or intellectually snobbish. The experience of a classical education is rare for almost everyone.
We’ve found that a shift in language helps explain a classical education. Rather than grammar, think content. Content includes facts about math, science, history, and many other subjects. Add the development of skills in reading, writing, and math, and you have an accessible understanding of content.
For the concept of logic, think process. We have categorized as process the elements of reasoning such as analysis, synthesis, and the making of analytical connections between seemingly disparate facts or ideas in the pursuit of truth.
Rhetoric is replaced with communication. Communicating effectively is practiced through a variety of forms: a well-written essay, presentation, debate, or an artwork.
The three stages of the trivium describe the learning stages from early elementary to the high school years, yet the practice of all three: content, process, and communication, are integrated into a classical curriculum for each learning experience from preschool through 8th grade.
The Classical Approach
The Chicago Grammar School classical curriculum provides a systematic approach to the development of knowledge aligned with a child’s cognitive development. It is a language based approach with great emphasis on the acquisition of reading, math and writing skills in the early grades. It is an integrated curriculum with themes tying literature, history, science, art, and music together.
A classical education uses a three-stage process to educate the mind:
The Grammar Stage corresponds to grades 1-4 and is the period in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid, just as grammar is the foundation of language.
The Logic Stage corresponds to grades 5-8 and is the period when a child’s mind begins to think more analytically.
The Rhetoric Stage corresponds to grades 9-12 and is the period during which the students sharpen their verbal and written skills to logically and persuasively express themselves across the curriculum.
Research supports that making connections across the curriculum establishes a framework of associative networks that can be recalled for future problem-solving. This approach allows students to see commonalities among diverse topics and reinforces understanding and meaning for future applications. In a classical curriculum, history provides the framework for curriculum connections based on a four-year cycle.
Scientists have firmly established and progressive educators have long recognized that learning and knowledge in children do not follow as an automatic result from what is taught. Learning and the resulting knowledge is in large part due to children’s own doing. Learning is a consequence of their activities, problem-solving and environment, that is, their experience.
Children generate their own rules and mental models which they use to make sense of their experiences. Learning is the process of adjusting those mental models to accommodate new experiences. Knowledge is the more complex and networked model which results from the adjustments, or learning.
At the neurological level, knowledge is defined as the pattern of connectivity among neurons; and learning is defined as modifications to this pattern of connectivity and the establishment of new synapses and interconnections. A rich environment allows for a multitude of experiences and therefore a greater number of interconnections can be established; consequently, learning can take place faster, more effectively and with greater meaning.
At Chicago Grammar School, our program is designed to immerse the child in complex interactive experiences that are both rich and relevant to the child. The teacher’s role is to identify and plan for the experiences. They assume the responsibility of guiding the problem-solving. The teacher attentively adjusts the level of assistance and direction in response to the child’s level of performance, thereby either expanding or creating a new mental model to accommodate the experience.