Philosophy of Education Series: Classical Education

[Note: This is the first in a series on books in Schola Lending Library for homeschoolers looking into the different philosophies of education. Subsequent posts will cover Charlotte Mason, relaxed homeschooling, homeschooling the special needs kiddo, and a post with a round-up of my favorite homeschooling books spanning different philosophies. Sign up for notifications if you want to make sure you don’t miss them!]

“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls….'” (Jer. 6:16) Classical Education is a popular homeschool philosophy that hearkens back to the ancient paths, the time of the Greek and Roman civilizations. A time of burgeoning art and sweeping architecture, stiff literature from the likes of Plato and Homer, and of course, Zeus, Hera, and all the rest of our mythological heroes and heroines. Education-wise, the emphasis on the study of grammar, logic, rhetoric (known as the trivium–the “three ways”) and astronomy, music, geometry, and arithmetic (the quadrivium) began in this period.

However, classical education has come to encompass more than just the trivium and quadrivium. Today’s children have so many more things to learn than a child of the Roman Empire. I mean, we have chemistry, Newton, all of modern history, calculus, biology, Dickens, psychology, and Shakespeare, and many other things that Socrates could only have dreamed about. However, Classical Education is not about what subjects one teaches. It is a philosophy of educating that emphasizes ideals such as truth, goodness, justice, ethics, and beauty. My favorite definition of classical education, if one needs to distill it down to a sentence, comes from Andrew Kern, founder of Circe Institute. He says that Classical Education is “the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty….” [For more truth and goodness about Classical Ed from Andrew, see his podcast called “Ask Andrew”–highly recommended] The cultivation of wisdom and virtue?!? How in the world does one even begin to do that?

That’s why our motto here at Schola Living Books is “Veritas. Bonitas. Pulchritudo.” Truth, Goodness, Beauty. It’s not so much about what subjects one teaches their children but how they teach it and what they emphasize within those subjects. Do we focus on mastery of a subject, or learning facts for knowledge’s sake? Do we use assessment methods that show a child’s true grasp of a subject rather than if they can recall certain facts for the test? Do we fill our children’s minds with good literature, stories that enliven the imagination, spurs one on to good deeds, and encourages children to think of others before themselves? Do we put before them the lives of men and women of honor and courage and duty, tales and legends from a time when good was good and evil was evil, and the lines were clearly delineated? Do we emphasize the interconnectedness of all knowledge, not separating each subject into a set of facts unto itself? Do we study the Great Books, the classics from ages past that are our children’s gateway into the Great Conversation? In short, are we cultivating wisdom and virtue within them by setting the feast of truth, goodness, and beauty before them? This is Classical Education.

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One of my favorite parenting quotes is from N.D. Wilson’s book Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, which, if you follow my posts on social media, I’m sure you’ve seen before:

The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.

Our children will never live in a world of innocence as some of us may feel we did. They need to know what they believe, and be prepared at every step to stand up for it. They need to be armed with courage, girded with truth, and clothed in wisdom. One of the books featured in the list below is C.S. Lewis’ gem on education, The Abolition of Man, in which he says,

The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

Let us not famish our children by feeding them a bland serving of mere knowledge and facts. Lay before them a grand feast of ideas and beautiful things that will nourish their minds, and awaken their hearts. Teach them facts if you must, but more importantly teach them *how* to learn, *how* to think, and *how* to beat back the shadows.

 

If you are interested in learning more about Classical Education, Schola Lending Library can help. Below are some of the books we have available on Classical Education. I say some, because we have many more books on education and philosophy that either directly or indirectly make the case for a return to a classical-style education. Some of the books listed are what some call Neo-Classical Education with a focus on the trivium as stages of learning by ages (e.g., Grammar stage is roughly 1-4 grade). For more on the origins of this more modern interpretation, see Dorothy Sayer’s speech The Lost Tools of Learning.

  • An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents – Christopher Perrin
  • Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty – Stephen Turley
  • Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America – Gene Edward Veith, Andrew Kern
  • The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home – Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Latin-Centered Education – Andrew Campbell (1st and 2nd editions)
  • The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education
  • Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education – Douglas Wilson
  • Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning – Robert Littlejohn, Charles T. Evans
  • Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education – Laura M. Berquist
  • Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education – David V. Hicks
  • Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin – Tracy Lee Simmons
  • Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child – Cheryl Swopes
  • The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis
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