Classical Education

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

— William Butler Yeats

In 1947, famed author Dorothy Sayers delivered a speech at Oxford University. Later published as The Lost Tools of Learning, Sayers’s lecture exposed the deficiencies in the modern approach to education and urged her peers to change course. Rejecting the narrow and superficial emphasis of contemporary schools, Sayers advocated a return to Classical education, embracing the time-tested model which, for centuries, has molded great minds such as Plato, Augustine, Chaucer, and Shakespeare.

Nearly seven decades after Dorothy Sayers issued her challenge, thousands of parents and educators have rediscovered the wisdom and beauty of educating young minds according to the Classical model.

The Classical Model

The Classical Model of Education is rooted in the trivium, which means “three roads.” The three branches of the trivium — grammar, logic, and rhetoric — comprise the first three stages of a Classical education. Each stage of the trivium corresponds to a particular stage in human development, capitalizing on the skills and inclinations that come naturally to every child.

The Grammar Stage — “Knowledge”

Children in the grammar stage thrive on mimicry and a mastery of the familiar. They enjoy singing the same songs, watching the same movies, and reading the same storybooks over and over again — much to chagrin of their parents! Since young children find repetition both natural and pleasant, the foundation of the Grammar stage is built on memorization. During this stage, a Classical student will commit the “grammar” of history, geography, math, English, science, and Latin to memory.

The Logic Stage — “Understanding”

As children mature, their interest in repetition wanes and they begin to question the world around them. The Classical model continues to capitalize on a child’s natural gifts; in the logic stage, it is the gift of argumentation. Logic, also known as “dialectic,” offers students the opportunity flex their reason. Students of logic ply their knowledge of history, geography, math, English, science, and Latin, to dig deeply into the Great Books of the world. In turn, these books provide the basis for analysis, discussion, and debate, as the students hone the discipline of clear reasoning.

The Rhetoric Stage — “Wisdom”

Rhetoric is the final chapter of the trivium. Students of rhetoric have accumulated knowledge and achieved understanding. The next step is to master the art of persuasion. As students continue their studies of Latin, literature, history, geography, the natural sciences, logic, and math, they learn to employ effective written and oral communication skills to persuade, to express ideas, and to defend their assertions.

Why Classical Education?

It is important to recognize that the Classical Model is not a curriculum. The essential characteristic of the Classical Model is to pass on, not the learning itself, but the tools of learning — tools which decades of subject-based, curriculum-driven, compartmentalized schooling have blunted or discarded.

The Classically-educated student seeks to master the art of learning, a skill applicable to any discipline that may be encountered over a lifetime of learning. Even — or perhaps especially — in this Information Age, the benefits of a Classical education serve to equip our children to become rational thinkers, capable communicators, wise leaders, and principled world-changers for God and for their fellow man.

Without these time-tested tools,

… [W]e let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education — lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it. [Emphasis added.]

— Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning

Wait, There’s More!

Yes, there’s much more to the Classical Model of Education than is featured here. Please visit our Resources page for additional books, websites, and tools to help you learn more about Classical Education.