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- Columbia Lutheran School
- 2323 E. 12th St. The Dalles, OR 97058
- Columbia Lutheran School
- (541) 701–9137
The Classical Model
The Trivium, meaning “three-fold way” describes the natural progression of learning recognized by the classical model of education. The larger sequence of courses in every subject is based upon this progression.
The Grammar stage of learning may begin at a very young age, when children are taught the building blocks of a subject, using memorization. Parents of young children see many examples where they memorize things without even trying. Examples from the Grammar stage are the alphabet, vocabulary words, and the dates connected with historic people, events, and places.
The Logic stage builds students’ understanding by teaching relationships between the building blocks already presented. It fits the age when students naturally begin wondering how the other things they have learned fit together. Examples of Logic-level subject matter are sentence structure, geometry, and formal logic.
The Rhetoric stage builds further by teaching the skill of independent expression, applying students’ understanding to create works of their own, or to respond appropriately to what others have expressed. This stage really begins at the very end of an elementary/middle school education, as students are preparing for their high school studies.
The classical model requires a cohesive curriculum arranged through all grades, which may incorporate many sources. It uses disciplines of western, classical instruction, including the Latin language and history, and works of the masters, such as the “Great Books.”
Freedom to Adapt
The classical model can be adapted for students with prior learning elsewhere. In a multi-grade classroom, students need not be taught each subject in exactly their own grade level. The teacher can take advantage of this flexibility to accommodate students with varying aptitude and varying degrees of prior learning.
Classical education extends through and beyond the elementary/middle school level with the Quadrivium. As it was defined centuries ago, it included more advanced training in arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In present-day terms, it would also include sciences like chemistry and physics.
Taken together, the Trivium and Quadrivium are known as the “seven liberal arts.” They summarize a complete education in knowledge and reason that every free citizen should have in order to participate fully in a free society. The word “liberal” in “liberal arts” does not refer to a political perspective, but to the liberty of conscience and other civil liberties afforded to each individual citizen under the Christian worldview. Some of these liberties form the basis of the American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
The Purpose of Education
The seven liberal arts are different from the approach used by American “progressive” education since the late 19th Century. The Trivium and Quadrivium present a wide and deep foundation of general-purpose knowledge, while training the student in the best ways to make use of it independently through every-day application. Progressive education, an important basis for modern public school curricula, has instead the goal of producing efficient and obedient workers. There is nothing wrong with efficient and obedient workers, but the classical model is based upon the belief that there is much more to the life of a human being than his or her work.
What we are calling a classical education has for many years been called a “liberal arts” education. The word “liberal” comes from the Latin libertas, which is translated “liberty,” or “freedom.” A classical, or liberal arts education, therefore, is meant to educate free citizens with the common foundation of knowledge, virtue and skill that they will need to participate in a free society. By contrast, servants or slaves have no need of such an broad and general education. Their customary education historically has been extremely specialized and practical, in the various areas where they are expected to serve their masters. A classical education is most appropriate for the citizens of a republic founded on the principle of unalienable rights given to every human being by their Creator.
The difference is apparent at the earliest levels of education, where the classical student is memorizing the basic facts in each area of learning, even when those facts may not have an apparent application. Classically educated students don’t begin learning specialized applications to the exclusion of other areas until later in their education, when they have mastered the Grammar and learned the Logic of a subject. For example, it’s more important for a classical student to learn how math operations work, and how to solve problems with nothing but a pencil and paper, than it is for him to learn how to use a calculator. Students may have less total experience using a calculator than those in a progressive school, but they will have far greater understanding of the math, and the ability to adapt their knowledge to any technology.
In the first few grade levels, progressive education may mirror classical education simply because memorization is an age-appropriate activity. However, there is a clear difference in the perspective of the teachers. Classical teachers in the early grades are keenly aware of laying a foundation that will later support the Logic and Rhetoric stages of learning, and instead of teaching isolated subjects, classical educators seek to teach a single, structured body of interrelated knowledge.
The Nature of Truth
The classical model is also different from common contemporary approaches to education concerning the nature of truth. The knowledge and skills presented in the Trivium and Quadrivium are taught because they are true, good, and even objectively beautiful. In the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries, the philosophies of Modernism and Postmodernism have changed that perspective in education. Today, many people believe that truth is determined by those with power, or even that there is no universal truth that can apply to everyone. Multiculturalism has had a strong influence upon public education through the United Nations and various federal programs, leaving the objective nature of things like truth and beauty in doubt. Because of this, the classical model offers a distinct advantage, with its proven approach grounded in western civilization reaching back to the ages of ancient Greece and Rome. This advantage makes the classical model a good fit in a Christian school, so that classical Lutheran education compares most favorably against the alternatives.