What is Classical Education?

When I started with the goal of practicing “classical education” in our home school my aim was simple – I would to do away with all the worthless dross that had been added to my own public school education in the 70’s, put in a highly focused and performance based set of activities, and thereby have the time and the energy to do all the things I wanted to do with my children, art, music, hiking, etc.  It would be classical simply because it would get down to the basis of what it meant to be educated, and wouldn’t waste time with stuff they didn’t need.  Since my husband was a classicist, with a nascent interest in classical education, we figured we would crown the process with Latin studies.  I concentrated on “teaching to mastery” whatever we covered.  In math, they had to learn the material to 80% on their tests or redo it.  In reading and science, we discussed the material to make sure they understood completely.

Back then no one asked us what classical education was, so I never had to explain that I didn’t know.  The education was classical because it was rooted in tradition (whatever that meant) and we worked harder and faster than other home schoolers and included mythology in our studies – “the classics.” To me classical education always had “high seriousness” so I added that too … we weren’t just doing our own thing; although I always respected the unschooling movement, I knew it “just wasn’t me.”  We used no computers.  They didn’t have them in antiquity and anyway I believed that they were, generally, destructive to intellect.  My two oldest thrived on this curriculum.

Later, when I began working with my third child, we discovered that  he had dyslexia.  I found that explicit and highly focused phonics instruction of the type promulgated in the book The Writing Road to Reading was necessary for him to learn to read.  But still, our philosophy of “teaching to mastery” was fundamental and I taught Writing Road to him until he mastered the 70 phonograms, written from oral administration and spoken from sight.  He did learn to read properly and today, as a young man, he is able to do his college level work without undue difficulty.  I added “explicit phonics instruction” to my definition of classical education.

Eventually I found my home schoolers moving on to college and prep schools, and I myself entered, for pragmatic reasons, a public school classroom as an elementary teacher.  I brought my knowledge from classical homeschooling to my classroom.  Using these methods, from the beginning, my students were successful.  Since it seemed teachers and administration at the school spent untold hours trying to figure out how to accelerate learning for our students, I wanted to share with colleagues that my students were successful because of classical education practices.  But I still didn’t know how to simply explain what classical education was.

I believe it was Rousseau who said “Writing is a way of finding out.”  So this blog is such an attempt:  to find out what classical education is … and perhaps what it isn’t.  This blog will seek to bring that information to a world which is desperately in need of this knowledge.  The reason to do this, to quote Susan Schaeffer-Macaulay, is “For the Children’s Sake.”

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