Our desire is that students would sit under a worldview and philosophy that brings glory to God – their Creator and Only Savior. At the end of the day, we will judge success in our faithfulness to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light – pursuing the salvation and sanctification of students by God’s grace and for His Glory! Given our purpose of educating children to glorify God alone, the method by which we realize this purpose has been termed by some as classical.
What is Classical Education?
Classical education has served mankind for well over two millennia. It was developed by the Greeks and Romans, transformed by the church, and became a building block of western civilization. This education produced the greatest authors, statesmen, scientists and politicians in the Western world from the time of the Greeks until the late 19th century, including America’s founding fathers. Far from the latest fad, classical education is a return to a system proven for more than 1,000 years.
What makes classical education so effective? Classical education organizes learning around the maturing capacity of the child’s mind. Parents often recognize the stages through which their children pass as they mature. As the first three of the Seven Liberal Arts, the Trivium is simply a means of describing the learning stages of children as they mature. It focuses the educational method to best develop a knowledgeable, thinking, and articulate student. As the name implies (Trivium; Lat. “three ways”), there are three stages represented in the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, each building upon its predecessor. The Trivium comprises the means by which students were given the "tools of learning."
The Grammar Stage corresponds to elementary grades (1st – 4th) where the basic factual content and rules—the "grammar"—of any given subject must first be mastered. The Logic or Dialectic Stage corresponds to junior high grades (5th – 8th) where an understanding of how to apply the facts—the “logic”—must be discerned. Finally, the Rhetoric Stage corresponds to high school grades (9th – 12th) where the ability to synthesize the foregoing into an articulate argument—the “rhetoric”—must be developed. This three-stage approach to instruction carries with it the goal of producing graduates who have mastered the art of learning so that they may skillfully acquire and apply knowledge, reason critically and articulate persuasively. The Biblical equivalent to this progression is found in the book of Proverbs with the admonition to pursue knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
The Grammar Stage
Historically, this first step in a child’s education was structured around the study of Latin grammar and, as a result, came to be known as the Grammar stage. The memorization of Latin vocabulary and grammatical forms trained the young student’s mind to encounter, assimilate, and retain large quantities of material in an organized and efficient manner. At a time when students are particularly adept at and enjoy memorization and naturally absorb information, the curricular emphasis is on learning basic facts and figures of a given subject through songs, rhymes and jingles. They learn rules of phonics, spelling and grammar; stories of history and literature; facts of math; descriptions of plants and animals; the vocabulary of foreign languages and more. The memorization was never an end in itself, but a tool to be placed in the student’s intellectual arsenal for later use. Students begin diagramming sentences in first grade and start Latin in third grade. Scripturally, we might say that this stage seeks to equip the students with knowledge (Proverbs 2:6
The Logic/Dialectic Stage
The Logic/Dialectic Stage involves ordering facts into organized statements and arguments. During this stage, children are beginning to think independently. Students are interested in cause and effect, relationships between different fields of knowledge, the way facts fit together in a logical framework, and often develop a propensity for argument.
Classical education teaches children to argue well. Because logic is the study and practice of correct reasoning, the study of formal logic helps students understand the fundamentals of a good argument, giving them practice in making written and oral arguments to help further develop these skills. Logic helps us make sense of everything – including the Scriptures. In fact, the Greek word for “therefore” (a sure indication of a reasoned argument) occurs nearly one thousand times in the New Testament!
Using formal logic as a tool, the students study the ordered relationship of the facts and ideas committed to memory in the Grammar Stage. Each subject has its own logic. In science, we use the development and testing of hypothesis. In math, we develop a student’s ability to logically orient numbers through the more abstract concepts of algebra and trigonometry. Because we desire our students to think clearly and logically, we feature the study of formal and informal Logic in our 7th and 8th grades. When students think logically, they are demonstrating understanding (cf. Proverbs 1:5
The Rhetoric Stage
Finally, the emphasis during the Rhetoric Stage shifts toward honing rhetorical skills. Once students have become proficient and logical thinkers, they must learn how to eloquently and persuasively express their learning, both orally and in writing. This shift prepares students to write college-level theses, utilizing their grasp of proper grammar as well their ability to think logically and critically.
Students’ creativity will be engaged as they bring God’s Word to bear on new topics and new situations and experiences. Their ability to see connections and draw out implications will grow with an increased emphasis on the inter-relatedness of all truth. Students research important themes and present those concepts in papers and speeches. They discuss world events and explore career options. Through the practice of writing papers, researching, and orating ideas, the student becomes a well-rounded student who can communicate effectively and is well-prepared to become a lifelong learner. We leverage these skills through the final requirement of the defense of a senior thesis. Biblically, we might say this focuses on the exercise of wisdom (cf Proverbs 2:2
A God Glorifying Education
The three stages of the Trivium may be appropriately thought of as overlapping spheres of instruction. We would miss the point of classical education if we failed to realize that the study of Grammar necessarily involves small amounts of Logic and Rhetoric. A child standing to present information gained from a purely rote method of instruction is still expressing his knowledge publicly, and this can be done poorly or well. Likewise, a student of Rhetoric will, on occasion, have need to memorize and make inferences between pieces of information, as he will for the remainder of his life. Our desire in teaching and learning classically (and Christianly!) is to integrate learning, to think systemically about critical issues, and to submit all knowledge to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
The way students see the world, the way they approach life, and the depth of their character are all influenced by education. Classical Christian Education seeks to build wisdom in the lives and hearts of students. True education is far more than simply the accumulation of knowledge and understanding. This approach teaches students to love learning, think soundly, and communicate persuasively.
We seek to integrate subjects like literature, history, language, art, math, and science. Students read the great works of Western literature and philosophy. Classical languages (Latin and Greek) help students understand and think with greater depth about the world around them. Formal logic and rhetoric help students become great leaders and communicators.
All of this is fundamental to a sound education, but even more is necessary for a truly God-glorifying education. Not only do we seek to impart knowledge in these basic areas, but also an understanding of how to learn, how to teach oneself through the rest of life. This enables a student to handle any new subject which was not covered as the building blocks were taught. The habits of the Trivium give the student the "tools of learning," and these are tools which do not wear out with extended use.