I've been doing some research on educational methods, and I'd like to share with you why we have chosen to educate our children in the home-centered, classical Christian style.
Let me first define the terms:
Home-centered education is a phrase I picked up while reading Classical Conversations founder Leigh Bortins's book The Core. It just means that while schooling is done at home, that's not the only place my child is taught. We participate in Classical Conversations, and we enjoy having a responsible tutor introduce the memory work for each week of the program. Mary enjoys being with her classmates and learning alongside them. I am not my child's only teacher, per se, hence, the home-centered tag. One could argue that every homeschooler (or any child for that matter) learns all the time, so what makes this any different. Well, to me, reminding myself of these words, home-centered, helps me to remember that I'm not alone. By being involved in a wonderful Classical Conversations community, I've made like-minded friends who support and encourage me when the going gets tough. My daughter sees other children learning the same memory work and therefore doesn't think it out-of-the-ordinary to recite a historical timeline regularly. To her, it's just what you do. And I like that.
Before I buy things, I read reviews. I scour the internet and Amazon and read pretty much everything I can find on that product or service. I want something that I know will be good! As a former teacher, I know firsthand that educational methods and curriculum change on a whim. Whatever is new and sparkly and has bells and whistles will make it into the classroom. However, there is usually very little data to support its claims to raise test scores (because in public schools, the teachers are teaching to the test - at least that was my experience). No, there's got to be something better out there then the latest and greatest gimmick for my children. We read about brilliant minds in history books; what was their secret? How were they educated?
. . . the only time in recorded history of this planet that a culture has had universal, proficient literacy was in the United States from the 1600s to the 1950s. (The Core, p. 57)
Wow! Okay, whatever these Americans were doing certainly worked!
I want that for my kids!
With its focus on memorization and recitation, classical education is a proven method that has been used to train the minds of the world's finest statesmen, philosophers, scientists, and artists for over 2,500 years. (The Core, p. 46, emphasis mine)
Classical it is!
Well, what does that mean exactly?
A classical education is achieved through the medieval Trivium, which means 'three roads' in Latin. These three roads are the different stages of
Dialectic (also called Logic)
The grammar stage begins at the early elementary years and continues until about 11 or 12 (depending on the child, of course). In this first stage, children are sponges, soaking up any little fact we throw at them. These curious little blessings want to learn and are excited about new things. Therefore, a classical educator will focus on supplying children with quality content to memorize and recite, which is training the brain to hold and store information.
The dialectic stage follows, until the child is 14 or so (again, depending on the the specific child). At this level, the child begins to ask why and wants to know the relationships of the facts she has learned. Why does she know the Declaration of Independence? Why has she learned to recite over 160 events in a history timeline? The dialectic stage is about understanding and making connections.
Beginning at 15 or 16 years old, the young adults will naturally enter the final Trivium stage of rhetoric. This stage is about self-expression and learning how to persuasively convey one's ideas. Leigh Bortins explains it beautifully:
To classical educators, rhetoric means to practice very specific skills in order to be most persuasive in expressing truth, goodness, and beauty. . . Once grammar, logic, and rhetoric are over-practiced, a student is prepared to study anything. (The Core, p. 54)
And that, friends, is the goal of classical education - to teach children the art of learning so they can be free!
What do I mean by 'free?'
Let's take a look at a little Susie:
Susie wants to learn to play Beethoven's fifth symphony. With today's Outcome-Based Education (OBE) model, the teacher shows Susie which piano keys to press and when. Susie practices those commands until her fingers memorize the correct order. Congratulations, Susie, you can now play a piece by Beethoven. However, ask Susie to play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and she can't. She has been taught using the OBE educational model, which focuses only on the student's performance or outcome. She must go back to her traditional teacher for more lessons. Hmm... this sounds quite a bit like my own education.
Now, let's try this again, but this time, Susie's teacher follows the classical model. First, Susie learns to read music (grammar stage). Then, she learns to put her fingers on the correct keys to play the notes (dialectic stage). Finally, Susie can perform the Beethoven piece in a recital (rhetoric stage). The classical model has taken much longer than the popular OBE method in today's classrooms, but if you ask Susie to play another piece of music, she will be able to teach herself.
Doesn't the classical model make complete sense? It seems so natural.
. . . the Trivium - the method of working with students' natural inclinations at each stage of their physical and spiritual maturity. . . a method of studying which has proven successful for thousands of years. (Classical Christian Education Made Approachable, p. 34)
And if I may, here's one more great quote:
A classical education seeks to work with the natural desires and abilities of students as they grow. . . present(ing) the right knowledge at the right time while students have the opportunity to practice important skills at just the right time their desires for these skills develop. (CCEMA, p. 48)
We've talked about home-centered and classical, but what does Christian have to do with it?
My family and I are followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the cross for my sins and rose again. God is the Creator of everything, and therefore He is in everything we study. The classical Christian model strives to teach children that God is at the center of education, not the student, and that every subject relates back to Him and to each other.
Here's a look at modern education:
Everything revolves around the student and the subjects are compartmentalized.
Now, let's see a good representation of the classical Christian education model:
A great Christian education views the subjects as reflecting and relating back to the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Can we learn more of God's attributes by studying philosophy or history or chemistry? Can we use our knowledge to pour forth praise? This would constitute a great Christian education. (CCEMA, p. 10)
With God still firmly at the center, a classical Christian education moves one step beyond a great Christian education by considering the relationships between economics, science, and history and the interconnections of math, language, and the fine arts. (CCEMA, p. 11)
There you have it! I know you didn't ask for a little lesson from me today, and I apologize for the plethora of quotes (I don't fancy myself a gifted writer, so I do tend to fall back on other people's words who say things much better than myself). I hope that my sharing what I've learned so far (I still have a LOT to learn!) and my family's conviction about home-centered, classical Christian education, someone out there will be inspired to dig deeper. And if you're homeschooling and thinking about Classical Conversations or the classical Christian model, please click here to read my post on reading suggestions.
Finally, if you made it this far, congratulations! I wish I could reach through this screen and hand you a hot, gooey, chocolate chip cookie for spending so much time with me! I had no intentions of writing a book today, but the girls and the hubs are taking such nice, long naps right now!
I'd like to leave you with one final thought:
Through wisdom is an house builded;
and by understanding it is established:
And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
I believe there is a Scriptural basis for this method of education:
A classical Christian education builds a noble house by
laying the foundation with knowledge (grammar)
building the walls and the roof with understanding (dialectic/logic),
and decorating the house with wisdom (rhetoric). (CCEMA, p. 52)
Again, thanks for hanging in there with me, and God bless you, friends.