29 January 2010

Faith, Arts, and Education: Classical Ed. part 1

I've been pondering and researching, in a small way, various types of Christian education in my area. Earlier this week I visited a "Classical" school in NJ to see the Classical method in action.

The Classical method became popular after Dorothy Sayers gave a speech entitled "The Lost Tools of Learning". This gives a very good overview of the problems that plagued British education then (and which, it could be argued, plague American education today) and her suggested solution. Her main proposal was a reinstitution of the Trivium, a three-stage developmental approach to eduction. This is the first of the two main aspects of a Classical education:
I. GRAMMAR, or "Parrot" stage, generally grades 1-4, repetition and memorization of facts (names, dates, the alphabet, verb conjugations, Latin declension, timelines, the multiplication table, the periodic table of the elements....)
II. called variously LOGIC or DIALECTIC, the "Pert" phase. Generally grades 5-8, when students begin to ask "Why?" It focuses on cause and effect, connections, reasons, influences, movements, ideas, schools of thought, and so on. Debate is a main tool of learning at this stage, when critical thinking skills are developed.
III. RHETORIC, or "Poetic" level. Usually grades 9-12, when well-trained students can begin producing works themselves (literary interpretations, original solutions to mathematical problems, experimentations on self-chosen scientific hypotheses, defenses of positions, hands-on technical or mechanical productions, and original creative work/performances). Students should be encouraged to chose a major area of focus during this time and to pursue somewhat independent work with teacher guidance.

The other main aspect of a Classical education, at least according to Susan Wise Bauer, a proponent of Classical education in the homeschool, is a chronological arrangement and synthesis of courses. The curriculum should rotate through a series of historical time periods, and all classes should be presented from the point of view of that era. There are various ways to do this; here is one:

Twelve-Year, Eight-Era Rotation Containing Three Repetitions
1st, 5th, and 9th grades: Ancient (creation-0 B.C.) & Apostolic (0-500 A.D.)
2nd, 6th, and 10th grades: Medieval (500-1300) & Renaissance (1300-1660)
3rd, 7th, and 11th grades: Neoclassical (1660-1789) & Romantic (1789-1900)
4th, 8th, and 12th grades: Modern (1900-1960) & Postmodern (1960-present)

What's relevant for this blog about the Classical method is that it is ideally suited for teaching a Christian worldview and for integrating the Arts. One can teach the history through a Christian interpretation (note: A Christian interpretation; I don't believe there's just one), focusing [of course] on "Western" history (one can't teach it all).

That's all I will say today. In subsequent posts, I intend to talk about the advantages of this method, other rotations that can be used, methods for integrating math and science, examples of interdisciplinary lessons, and observations of the Classical school I visited. I'll also compare the homeschool program where I now teach, and maybe investigate some other schools.

But for now, I'd like to hear from anybody who teaches at a Classical school, who attends/ed one, or who uses the method at home. Do you employ these two aspects? How do they work?

1 comment:

Annelise Holwerda said...

I don't think there are any schools like this at all near me... But it sounds wonderful, even despite its strangeness and counter-intuitiveness (re. rote learning, for example, and lack of emphasis on some modern subjects/approaches). Would be interesting to see both its downfalls and its excellence in action, because there must be some surprises in how it actually plays out in a child's development.

As you say, I love that there's a lot more focus on aspects of learning that are missing, or badly taught, these days. Schools can at least learn from parts of this, surely? But I suppose that different people do have different interests (unfortunately :P), too; and it also sounds like a lot of hard work for primary age children- and a possibility of leaving some behind- which might be well enough avoided if similar outcomes can be achieved in a way that's more accessible for children. Curious.