Classical Education

timeless & virtuous

We live in an age when what is practical and useful takes precedent over what is timeless and virtuous. Until the early part of the twentieth century, most Americans were educated classically. American students were exposed to the best literature, music, art, and thinking that Western civilization offered. Consequently, this classical method of thinking shaped the modern world’s system of government, religion, medicine, and education.

Heritage offers a classical education that is traditional, time-tested, and intellectually rigorous. Often “classical” is misconstrued as education that is limited to the study of Latin, Greek, and antiquated approaches to learning. In 1947, Dorothy Sayers, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis, wrote “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In this catalytic work, she bemoaned the loss of classical education and its virtues of depth and substance in inspiring young minds. Her writing served as a call to many educators to reconsider classical education. Currently, classical schools are forming around the world, in both rural and urban settings, with dramatic results. Classical education works even in contemporary society with its podcasts and fast-paced pop culture.

One of the distinctions of classical education is the insistence on presenting students with the great works of Western civilization, masterpieces that span the fields of art, history, language, philosophy, and literature. Thus students come to understand the present and gain perspective on the future through knowledge of the past. A classical education is based on great ideas, great books (including primary sources when possible), foundational truths and principles, and enduring traditions and skills. It holds to long-established standards.

“three roads”

These standards are founded on a centuries-old pattern of education called the Trivium. The Latin word, "trivium," means "three roads." The three roads of learning consisted of three subjects: grammar, or skill in comprehending the facts; logic, or skill in reasoning out relationships between the facts; and rhetoric, or skill in effective expression and application of the facts and their relationships.

Grammar Stage

Kindergarten and elementary aged students are in the “grammar stage.” They are naturally inclined to absorb the basic knowledge of each subject. For example, core grammar skills include knowledge of dates and events. Math grammar incorporates basic math facts, including hands-on manipulatives and reinforcing of core concepts. Children at this age absorb everything from core academics to jingles on commercials and the names of breakfast cereals. By teaching with “the grain of the child,” a solid foundation of the grammar of both language and math provides the basis for a lifetime of learning.

logic stage

By Middle School, students move into the “logic stage,” when the question “why?” becomes a common response. At Heritage, logic is formally taught to give a tool to students to enable them to engage ideas and concepts at a higher level. Formal debate takes place as students delve more deeply into various subjects. For example, students discuss the British and American perspectives during the Revolutionary War. Students learn to support conclusions with facts. Students are exposed to the Socratic Method, where questioning leads students to answers and engages them in class discussions.

rhetoric stage

Students experience the culmination of their classical education in the Rhetoric stage. By building on the grammar stage of learning information and the logic stage of understanding how that information is related, they now are able to form opinions and decisions and begin to express those ideas persuasively through writing and speaking. The rhetoric stage is the capstone of the classical model, producing students who are not only able to think critically, but to influence and persuade others, creating culture-changers.

A distinction of Heritage’s approach to classical education is the recognition that students develop through all the stages described by Dorothy Sayers. Younger students not only learn facts but also reason. They are expected to write about what they have learned. Older students continue to add new, more complex, factual information to their store of knowledge.

The three stages of the Trivium distinguish education at Heritage from a “progressive” model of education found in most schools today, where the emphasis is on facts and memory work. At Heritage, all courses of study begin with basic information in multiple forms: phonograms, math facts, maps, or butterfly specimens. As students mature, the coursework focuses increasingly on gathering and interpreting information and on the limitation of information and its logical implications. Ultimately, the aim is for students to articulate what they have learned, both orally and in writing.

At Heritage, a well-rounded, integrated, sequential curriculum stresses depth and weight in order to nurture students, not simply to entertain them. Because the emphasis is on the classical model, the curriculum is consistent, enabling a teacher to be immersed in content, rather than reinventing the form. One of the hallmarks of classical education is multum non multa, “much, not many.” Depth over breadth is a refreshing approach in an age of the superficial and the temporary.

Classical education enables students to think critically and biblically by evaluating the works of prominent thinkers and artists of the past and present. Teachers encourage students to express themselves creatively in various media forms. For Heritage students, the goal is to participate knowledgeably and confidently in the scientific and technological issues of the modern world.

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The Charlotte Mason Influence

While Classical education forms much of Heritage pedagogy and curriculum selection, much of the classroom methodology for teaching is influenced by Charlotte Mason, who was a British educator in the late 1800’s.

Her primary aims were to instill in children good study and social habits as well as a love of learning. Children are “born persons” and need sufficient time to assimilate learning. In contrast to some schools that put quality content before students, and do so with such volume and intensity that learning is lost in a sea of facts, Ms. Mason’s methodology encourages depth over breadth.

Heritage avoids the use of pre-digested textbooks and prefers to use original sources, such as older literature that is rich in what Ms. Mason called “living ideas.” Children are not computers needing a teacher/programmer to instill facts into them. At Heritage, teachers are similar to tour guides taking students on tours of rich ideas and noble thoughts as a means of inspiring and engaging their minds and imaginations.

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narration

The use of oral and written narration enables children to not only listen and read well, but also to comprehend well, by telling back a selection of material they have heard or read. They retell, as much as possible, word for word. As students narrate, they learn good writing style, since they often recite or write in the same style as the author. Narration also strengthens and develops vocabulary and memory skills. Having engaged the actual intentions of the author, students can then apply those rich ideas to their own thinking.

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nature study

Ms. Mason also believed that children should be allowed to spend time outdoors every day. Nature study provides hands-on experiences with nature as a means of gaining skills in observation and appreciation of God’s creation. Based on this concept, Heritage recently completed a garden and a nature trail. The trail extends around the full 12 acres of the school’s campus. Heritage also offers weekly classes in nature study for students in the Lower School.

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shorter class days

Heritage has shorter class days in the Enrichment and Lower School. Ms. Mason believed that fewer hours allow for the time at school to be more productive and also allow for more time at home. Children’s capacities for focused learning are limited. After a half-day at school, younger children are ready for non-educational activities that occur optimally in the home environment.

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