I was a Classical homeschool skeptic.
I still remember stumbling upon a video on YouTube of a 4-year-old skip counting and completing the math memory work for Classical Conversations. Amazed and, truth be told, a little disturbed, I sat.
“This little child could not possibly have understood the ramifications of what she was saying! And even if she does, what point is there in a four-year-old knowing these things?” These thoughts were at top of my mind, as I sat astonished, agape.
But there was that hint of curiosity, even in my skepticism. I sought out more information. I sought out the answer to all my “Why” questions. The journey from Classical education skeptic to Classical educator is still ongoing. I am still reading about the Classical model, still listening to Classical education podcasts, and going to Classical education meetings.
I truly believe the Lord led us to Classical education in general and to Classical Conversations in particular for a number of reasons. Today I am just going to outline some basic thoughts on Classical education.
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Classical learning is true learning.
It is just inescapable, the way God wired our brains for learning is a classical model of education. Others have written about it more eloquently than I could ever express in regard to the way we grasp information. But I am a bit more basic about it – I see the Classical model when I open the pages of Scripture and search for truth. I see it on every page of Scripture and in the way I study Scripture. The building blocks of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are clearly modeled in a number of ways in the Classical model.
The Classical Model started popping up for me everywhere and in every pursuit.
A Biblical Classical Model
Reading through Proverbs 1 and 2, I considered the beauty of what wisdom offers. She shouts in the street, lifts her voice in the square, she cries out,
How long, O naïve ones, will you love simplicity?
And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing,
And fools hate knowledge?
Turn to my reproof,
Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you;
I will make my words known to you.Proverbs 1: 22-23
And then the parent of Proverb’s son says,
My son, if you will receive my sayings,
And treasure my commandments within you,
Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD,
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.Proverbs 2: 1-6
He just goes on from there with that triad of thought: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. These three are inextricably linked to the concept of wisdom. This triad is evident in the Classical Model, too. We see the early stage of knowledge, which leads to understanding; and understanding, which leads to wisdom. The terms may change depending on the subject, but there is always this pattern building.
I noticed it most clearly with the other passion of mine: Bible study. The building blocks which correlate to wisdom in Bible study are called observation, interpretation, and application. There was no getting away from it.
Everywhere I looked to find out more about education, I kept finding this triad. I found it in books, in life, in art, in car repair – it was everywhere! The conclusion I settled upon was this –
“God must have hard-wired Classical learning, the Classical model, into our hearts and minds.”
Classical education is much more relaxed than most people think.
The terms around Classical education can be intimidating. Words like trivium, quadrivium, dialectic, and rhetoric require definition before a discussion can even begin. The mere mention of the intimidating language of Latin, which most of us have never studied, can cause immediate self-doubt. But knowing all these things at the outset is not necessary.
Willingness to diligently study and discover is.
Those verses above speak about the pursuit of wisdom, the building of knowledge and understanding, yes. But they also include a promise for the diligent seeker. Wisdom will be found. Discernment develops.
If one were to distill the Classical model down to its very core, one would find dialogue. A question-and-answer format is the most basic part of learning. The deepest questions of the heart and mind ignite discovery. If one is not interested in a subject, he will not seek out knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in that subject.
The Classical classroom – such that it is in our homeschool – is a place of questions and answers. The teacher queries the student. The student queries the teacher. And the students ask one another questions, too.
The ways this is demonstrated in the Classical setting are many. Science experiments, reading great literature, observing a chart, singing a song – if these things lead to questions, they lead to learning.
Yesterday, I was brushing my eldest’s hair (it is interminably awful in regards to tangles) whilst discussing the nature of Story and storytelling with my eldest and her sister. The conversation started randomly with the mention of a “story.” I then made the observation that the story was not a story unless it had a problem.
On the spot, I made up a non-story. “There was a girl, her life was good, the end.” We laughed at the silly nature of it. Nothing happened in the story. Then I mentioned a number of stories and asked my girls to identify the problem in each story.
There we were, in a relaxed setting, learning about the nature of story and storytelling – they made observations alongside me as we threw out questions and examples.
The Classical Model’s Connections Come Later
Let’s revisit that video I told you about – the one with the little girl and the math facts.
That little girl likely didn’t know much about what she was saying. Certainly, she had no idea what the math laws meant. She had not likely fully recognized the truth that eight fluid ounces do indeed equal one cup.
But what I couldn’t have known until I started teaching my kids was how deeply these facts would imbed themselves into the brains of my kids. The facts of the Foundations years of Classical Conversations are the building blocks of wisdom. They are the “knowledge” portion of the pursuit.
Instead of attempting to reason and explain the truth of these facts to our kids, the Classical model would simply point to the truth.
This is Truth. Know it.
What comes later is the nuance, the reasoning, and the recognition of Truth. The child comes along to the math facts and discovers – through many a math fact sheet – that in fact, the Commutative Laws of Addition and Multiplication are true. A + B does indeed equal B + A. No matter how many times it is tested, it will always be true.
Knowing Truth from the earliest of learning stages sets the student up to have a rubric for further understanding. Classical educators sometimes refer to these nuggets of truth or facts as “learning pegs.”
Later the student can puzzle over a number of other math questions, but the solid Truth of the Commutative Laws will not change. They will be a constant upon which the math student can rely. The Classical student will be able to draw from the well of facts, the “pegboard of learning,” and know something about a subject.
Again, I cannot avoid the comparison to Biblical Truth. In that case, we read it, knowing God has said, “My Word is truth.” But we do not realize the truth of God’s Word until we reason, we live it, experience it, and recognize it as Truth. The Truth did not change, but – through experience – our understanding of it did.
Isn’t it beautiful? Just imagine the Creator of the Universe, who created man in His image and according to His likeness gave us the reasoning skills to seek Him. He laid it all out in Scripture and where we see hints of this triad of wisdom, I believe we are on the right track. That is why I believe God led us to Classical education.