The foundation of a classical
education is a three-part system of learning called
the trivium. The elementary school years are spent
largely memorizing facts. In the middle grades, students
learn to think through the study of logic. In
the high school years, they learn to express themselves
with force and originality.
Grades 1 – 4: The Grammar Stage
The first years of schooling, generally grades one
through four, are called the "grammar stage.”
During this period, education involves learning facts.
Young children enjoy and are very good at memorization,
even when they may not understand the significance of
what they are learning. During these years they are
presented with the rules of phonics, spelling, and grammar,
poetry, stories of history and literature, the multiplication
table, geography, dates, events, plant and animal classifications;
anything that lends itself to repetition and retention.
In this way, classically educated children are learning
the factual foundation of each subject which they will
study in depth later. The grammar period also includes
a language, usually Latin or Greek, and the children
spend time learning and memorizing its vocabulary and
Grades 5 – 8: The Logic Stage
By fifth grade, a student begins to think more abstractly
and analytically. This introduces the second phase
of classical education, the "logic stage."
During this time students begin to see and understand
cause and effect. The facts they learned in the grammar
stage are taking on meaning for them, and they are able
to order facts into organized thoughts and arguments.
They are beginning to think independently, and to use
reason to ask questions. They study formal logic, learn
the fundamentals of good argument, and practice written
and oral argument. Each subject has its own logic. In
science, they learn the development and testing of hypothesis.
In math, logic is applied to the more abstract concepts
of algebra and trigonometry; in writing, learning to
write a well-constructed and defended thesis; in reading,
criticism and analysis of books; in history, the “whys”
behind the events of the past.
Grades 9 – 12: The Rhetoric Stage
The final phase of a classical education, the "Rhetoric
Stage," builds on the first two. Students
have obtained knowledge of the facts (grammar) and are
able to order those facts into arguments (logic); now
they must develop the skill of communicating forcefully
and persuasively (rhetoric). Rhetoric is the art of
communicating well. At this point, students learn to
write and speak with originality. They may also begin
to direct their studies in the areas of their interests,
and take part in extra-curricular training such as college
courses, travel, and other specialized opportunities.
In the classical system of education, academic subjects
are all interrelated. The study of history is used as
the foundation for organizing all of them, beginning
with ancient civilizations and moving forward to modern
eras in all the disciplines.
Jesse Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind,
suggests that “the twelve years of education consist
of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern:
Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation,
and Modern Times. The child studies these four time
periods at varying levels,” from simple during
the grammar stage, to complex during the rhetoric stage.
This carries the classical student through all the school
years in consistent systematic study.
For further information:
Jesse Wise Bauer, http://www.welltrainedmind.com
Dorothy Sayers' essay on classical education, The
Lost Tools of Learning.
Explore Schola Tutorial's online
classical education resources.
Find a reading list and more information for home schooling
Christian Home Educators.
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