Thursday, October 20, 2011

Classical Education: Part III

This is Part III in a series on Classical Education written by Troy Wathen.  Click here for Part I and Part II.  Troy is our Associate Director as well as a Lower Middle School teacher on Track A.  He and his wife, Summer, moved here recently with their two 
daughters, Faith Marie and Grace.  Both girls are in Lower Middle School.



“Why do we do it this way?” is a common question people ask regarding the methods and content of classical education. The curious thing about this particular question is that classical educators are asked it repeatedly when we have very good answers for the question while “modern” educators are seldom asked to provide sound reasons for the methods used in most classrooms across the country. I believe this is because most in our modern society have come to accept that those who write textbooks and those who use the textbooks know what is best for our children. However, an education without a clear philosophy behind it ends up lacking clarity of purpose. Furthermore, education becomes a process of teaching students to take packaged tests rather than teaching them how to think. As classical educators, this is why we teach the way we do—we want to light the fire of thinking in our students.




Regarding the methods, classical educators ascribe to the medieval process of the Trivium—grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Most educators agree that all students move through developmental stages from the concrete understanding of simple facts, to the logical connection of those facts, and finally, to the ability to pull these connections together and communicate them effectively. These stages are essentially The Trivium. Some of us also believe that grammar, logic, and rhetoric are necessary components of learning any subject regardless of one’s developmental stage. If I learn guitar, it is best to memorize the strings on the guitar (grammar), how to form notes, and how to combine those notes to make chords (the logic), and lastly, how to blend the individual notes and chords to create beautiful music (rhetoric). I personally, failed to take the time with the grammar of guitar so I remain limited in my ability to create truly beautiful music. I need to go back and re-learn the grammar and logic instead of memorize a whole bunch of chords. This is also why good readers begin with phonics and work their way to reading. The basic skills are essential for later flourishing.



Latin textbooks available in SLOCA's bookstore


Latin is a common classical subject choice that gets critiqued because of its lack of use in modern society. However, Latin is foundational for unlocking the system of language in general, and especially the Romance languages of Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. Latin further drives the student to truly understand how English works because it forces the decomposition of language in order to comprehend the purpose words play in the sentence. It presents grammar in a different form from English, demanding that the learner wrap his/her mind around what a subject, direct object, verb, object of the preposition, and adjective actually do in the sentence. This forced understanding enriches one’s mastery of English. The key to Latin is to appreciate the benefits and beauty of the language; something often lost on pre-adolescents and adolescents—especially for those whose significant adults agree that Latin is a “dead language.” It is far from dead. It only is to those who choose not to learn and appreciate the deep benefits of the process and content of Latin.

Due to space, I will tackle one last distinctive—great books. My definition of “great books” is those books that capture the essence of the human struggle. Some come at this struggle from the perspective of the value of bravery and valor in the face of conflict, some from our tendency to run from conflict or our inner struggle to do right. Others deal with the philosophy of how human motivation works and the struggle between good and evil. At the core, great books capture the human story that is shared by every human being in every generation. Sometimes it is necessary to understand the context of the time period to link the theme to us today, but most great books are timeless because we can relate to that which is common to all human beings. Great books acknowledge the grip of selfishness but call us to rise above to act with virtue. Most great books relate to other great books enhancing this story of human interaction with the world and with others who share this world. Great books help us to rise above the mundane and consider nobility of character and our struggle to attain the highest virtues. Most help us to see that life is better when we pursue the true, noble, and right. Lastly, great books are worthy of multiple reads because of their depth. C.S. Lewis said, “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers “I’ve read it already” to be a conclusive argument against reading a work…Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life (emphasis mine). At SLO Classical Academy, we are just getting our students started by reading through the timeline three times from 1st grade to 12th.

There are so many levels to classical education, making it one of the most humbling and yet enlivening forms of education available to us today. If you are interested in learning more about the details of classical education, I encourage you to visit one of our School Tours offered each month or visit our website. Most who do wish they could go back to school. The great thing is that at SLO Classical Academy the whole family does get to go back to school. We welcome your intelligent pursuit of an education that suits your family.






Thank you, Troy for educating, inspiring and reminding us why we have chosen a classical education for our children and thus for ourselves.  Semper discentes (always learning together). 

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