Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Classical, or Classical?

I'm a self-professed classical homeschooling mom.  At least I try to be.  At the beginning of last year when Luke was beginning third grade, I started to think ahead a little, for the first time.  K-1-2 had just been about figuring things out for today.  How are we going to teach Luke to read? To count and add? What is the most important thing to do in second grade?  It was all I could do to figure out what needed to be done a semester at a time.

Starting third grade made me realize, I need to be looking down the road a little. I need an end goal, and a plan to get there.  So I started reading and researching.  It all started with trying to figure out how and when to teach writing and composition, but this took me down a road of diving deeper into the ideas of classical education.

Before we started homeschooling, I was recommended to read The Well-Trained Mind, by the Bauers.  I loved that book, and decided quickly it was how I wanted to homeschool my kids.  History chronologically? A Type A personality's dream! It was how I wish I had been taught.  So, as I searched for curriculum, I relied on The WTM suggestions and sequences.

But as I dived into a deeper study in third grade, I came across a different stream of ideas among classical educators.  I read a ton of articles on CirCe Institute, Classical Academic Press, and more.  The key turning point was reading "Trivium Mastery."  It explained what I'd been reading, but couldn't quite put my finger on.

There are two different ideas in classical education.  They both rely on the grammar-dialectic-rhetoric progression.  But they understand it differently.  Traditionally, the ancient Greeks understood these to be stages of learning.  When you begin to study a subject, you begin with the "grammar" of the subject.  Depending on the subject, you either slowly or quickly progress and begin to analyze and synthesize, critique and create with what you've learned.  For a subject like English, it takes years for children to learn the alphabet sounds, read basic words, then progress to sentences to understand something.  But reading a sentence and drawing a picture of it is rhetoric-type work for English.  It's 1st grade level, but it's using the grammar they've learned, understanding the words and their meaning, and creating something with it.  Full circle.  To teach this way, you simply understand the stages of each learning level, and work to take your student through each stage in each subject they're studying, introducing subjects at an age appropriate time.

There is also what seems to be a newer interpretation of grammar-dialectic-rhetoric, based on Dr. Dorothy Sayers lectures.  This approaches them as relating to a student's age.  Because young grammar age children do excel in memory, this has been capitalized on, and parents encouraged to give children a lot of memory work.  Students memorize the grammar of any and all subjects, regardless of whether or not it has any meaning to them, or if they are studying it outside of their memory work.  In this model, students may spend a year memorizing a set of facts and very impressively be able to recite it at the end of the year.  Anything from Latin conjugations, algebraic formulas, geography, English grammar, spelling rules, and all sorts of interesting things!  It's simply amazing what kids can do!

In reading about all of this, it has helped me so much to identify these two different streams running in the world of classical education right now.  I've done a lot of reading and evaluating, and for our family, I really prefer the traditional classical method.  I love to have memory work, we do plenty of memory work.  We memorize poetry, Bible verses, catechism questions and answers, the Presidents in order, States and capitals, math facts and multiplication tables, spelling rules and other concrete things that kids just need to know to do their studies well.  But it's a very small part of our day, not the main thing we do.  The main thing we do is read!  Tapestry doesn't require any memory work, and I think this is so wise.  Memories are built around experiencing history through stories great books, art projects and activities.  My kids still talk about building a giant ziggurat, three years ago.  They will talk about building a life size World War I trench for years as well.  I love the idea of not neglecting dialectic and rhetoric learning in the grammar age.  Because they are capable of it at a certain level.  That's what brings meaning and understanding in, which is key to true learning and retention.

I hope this helps others who are looking at classical education and scratching their heads, wondering what makes one program different from another.  There are significant differences, and its good to be aware of them.  There are so many great programs out there, and finding the one that's right for your family is the goal! :)


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