03 March, 2006

Traditional Classical Homeschool (part 1)

Okay, homeschoolers are a minority in this country. Classical homeschoolers are a minority of homeschoolers, and traditional classical a minority of that minority. So, I figure there are maybe a thousand of us in the whole country. Just as homeschooling is often misunderstood and classical homeschooling even more so, trad classical is about the most misunderstood of all. Here is my little, likely misguided, attempt at explaining what it is that we are about.

Most people these days are acquainted with homeschooling in general. Not everyone knows what classical homeschooling is, so that's where I'll start. There are two movements within Classical education (whether it be home, public or private), neo-classical and traditional classical. In general, classical education is education in the seven liberal arts. These arts consisted of the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). They are called the liberal arts because the word liberal comes from the Latin libero, meaning "I free." The point of a liberal education is to free the student; to free him from his preconceptions, from his baser nature, from the constraints placed on him by class or station. A liberally educated person might be a ditch-digger, but his thoughts and feelings are higher than his circumstances. He is not swayed by the mob, he is not a sheep that can be led with impunity. He knows beauty when he sees it and it gladdens his heart.

Sounds good right? Sure, but how does one do that? For almost 3,000 years the answer was a traditional classical education, but sometime during the Edwardian age our conception of what an education should do changed. With WWI and the culmination of the industrial revolution, Western Civilization came to a turning point in education. Suddenly free-minded ditch-diggers weren't enough. We were running a global economy now and we needed workers to provide for our country's economic future. So, the emphasis in education from the ditch-digger on up to the political elite changed from freeing one from ignorance and ignobility to freeing one to earn as much money as possible and impress others with how big one's brain is. C. S. Lewis calls this "men without chests." Modern society is full of smart people and hard workers, but we have no heart.

Now, we are finally beginning to see the need for heart. We have no common cultural standards anymore, we are no longer E pluribus unum. We are simply a bunch of little subcultures trying to stay insulated and make a buck without offending anyone. Or while offending others, depending on your subculture. We are the subcultures; we don't have a culture anymore. We are so far down this path many of us don't even see the need for a common culture. We flounder in the shallows of our feelings, we can't swim well enough to get to anything of depth. We can't even remember how to teach swimming.

And herein lies the heart of my post. As classical educators, we see the need to teach the inner man, to create people with heart, but we are largely making up the methodolgy as we go along. In the early part of the last century, many Classicists were sounding the alarm against the change to what we would now call outcomes-based education. One of those voices was Dorothy L. Sayers. Her message was simple, the liberal arts have a place in the new curriculum. Miss Salyers saw the Trivium as a tool, rather than the path the ancients did.

Trivium comes from the Latin for "the three-fold path." It consisted of three main subjects, Grammar (as in Latin and Greek grammar), Logic or Dialectic (this is philosophical logic, not mathematical logic), and Rhetoric (both writing and oratory). Miss Sayers thought that these three subjects should be considered more a methodology of teaching than a course of study. It was to be a kind of parts-to-whole education. One would learn the terms and basic concepts (the grammar) of a subject, then learn how these things work together (the logic), and finally be able to produce original thought on the subject (the rhetoric).

Likewise, the student is seen as progressing through these stages as he ages. The elementary age (dare I say grammar school) student is seen as being in the grammar stage, the junior high student is logic stage, and the high school student and adult are in the rhetoric stage. Instruction in each stage is geared toward the student's trivium level. He is learning the grammar of math (basic operations) in the grammar stage, the logic (algebra) in the logic stage, and the rhetoric (geometry, trig, calculus, discrete math, etc.) in the rhetoric stage.

One studies history, science, mathematics, music, art, grammar, writing, religion, logic, foreign languages, geography, copywork, dictation, memory work, literature, and often some type of physical education. Work begins on most of these subjects sometime between the ages of 6-10, and each subject is studied in-depth, often with writing assignments for each of the core subjects (history and/or literature, science, grammar, religion, and even math occasionally). This is a rigorous education.

This is the brand of education that trad classicists label "neo-classical." It is a good, even a great, education. One reads the Great Books of Western Civilization and enters into the great discussion of history. One might even learn Latin or Greek, and is definately taught logic. The power of expression is emphasized and tools for writing and speaking are provided. It is also the education that is espoused in virtually every how-to guide published on classical ed for homeschoolers. It seeks to provide both a chest and an economically viable citizen or a great Christian apologist.

Reading a neo-classical homeschooling guide leaves us with questions. Is this truly a classical education as it was understood before 1900? Should economic viability/apologetics or a "chest" be the most important consideration? Can we manage to fit all that in? Should we try? If we need to pick and choose, what should we pick, and why? Stay tuned for the trad classical answers.....


melissa in VA said...

WOW! This is really great! I can't wait for part 2. I came over here from Kath Jo's blog, and I am so glad that I did. Very intriguing. Don't leave us hanging too long!

Emily said...

Thank you so much for writing this! My kids are still little and we are trying to find our way into classical homeschooling. It can become overwhelming. Blogs like this keep me inspired :) Looking forward to part 2!!


Lynette said...

Your post and thoughts make one think! I was a public school educator before becoming a mother, and plan to return in a few years. Looking forward to part 2 as I try to sort all this out and see how I fit in as a public school educator with thoughts so opposed to "the system."

Heather said...

lynette, my "dirty little secret" is that I was training to be a teacher when I left college to get married. I still have plans to finish a degree, but it will likely be in something like history or classics. I went to a pretty conservative school. I felt sorry for the poor union rep who visited our Intro to Ed class. :-)

Terrill said...

I am trying to educate Christian classically. I have read some of Douglas Wilson and am very interested in hearing part II of your blog.

I didn't realize that there was a difference. Thanks.