You’ve been hearing it for a year now:
How many times have you heard these? How many times have you thought these? Whether you are a parent, teacher, or student, this year has been rough. We’ve dealt with abrupt changes, “pivoting on a dime”, and constant changes to our practices. Teachers are throwing out materials that they’ve used for years. Students and parents are being forced to become computer literate overnight. The landscape of education has completely changed.
Or has it?
What has changed? Teachers are still lecturing from a PowerPoint. Students are still writing notes (or not). They’re still using the same online tools (Quizlet, NearPod, Kahoot, etc.). They’re still using the same worksheets that no student enjoys. They’re getting similar results. Some students are doing well, the ones that are self-motivated. Yet, many students are failing. They aren’t coming to class. They don’t see “Zoom school” as “real school”. Even as schools begin to return to in-person instruction, we’re still seeing student performance fall. Why?
We’re using the tactics that have been only “okay” for decades.
So many educators, parents, and administrators are stuck on the idea of education as they knew it. It does not have to be this way! We can change and innovate, and it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. We need to look back to our past, particularly the rich academic history of the Mediterranean. Classical education, for hundreds of years, worked to educate the entire student. On top of teaching facts, students are cultivated in logic, reasoning, and rhetoric. They emerge well-spoken, intellectual adults capable of high levels of critical thought.
Sounds great, right? Let’s get into the details:
You’ve seen Jurassic Park, right? You know how even though the scientists could clone dinosaurs, they maybe shouldn’t? Classical education develops students who think through the moral implications of a decision. Should we do this? What are the ramifications? Is this beneficial to society? Students study philosophy, morals, and ethics from a young age. They learn to put these big ideas to use in their regular lives. These students are intelligent in their academics, of course. They are also, crucially, learn emotional intelligence. They learn how to make the world better for the communities around them, through morals, responsibility, and empathy.
2. Classical education is evidence-based.
“Classical” is not a simple word choice here. The classical style of education had been dominant for millennia before the 1900s. Rather than focusing in-depth on anything, the “progressive” education model dominant in the United States today gives an overview of everything. Educators now push a learning experience that is pleasant above all else. Students and parents rule the system, and protest if education is not “entertaining”. Expectations have fallen, and with them so has achievement. Grading has become much more lenient to make district numbers look better. Students are coming out of the “progressive”, public system at a much lower level academically and socially than their classically-educated peers. Classical education was successful for thousands of years. Why are we trying to change it now?
3. Classical education places a strong emphasis on language, logic, and fact-checking.
Over one in ten young Americans have not heard of the Holocaust. Shocking, I know. Around two-thirds do not know that 6 million Jewish people died in the Holocaust, and half cannot name any concentration camps. This is the fault of the American public school system. Students learn overview information so brief, they do not take in anything. Classical education is the remedy. The three-part pattern, called the trivium, focuses on language, logic, and expression. Students must first learn the facts, then move on to deconstructing arguments before creating their own. Students learn to know the facts before constructing an argument. They learn to speak in a clear, succinct way. They learn that to persuade anyone to listen, they must come prepared with facts. A large part of the classical curriculum focuses on logic and fallacies, and teaching children to recognize them. This way, they are capable of thinking for themselves, and can become self-reliant.
4. Classical education encompasses all subjects.
Classical education seeks to create a well-rounded, intelligent adult. This cannot happen without an equal emphasis on the most important subjects. While the classical model highlights language use, logic is also a critical part of the curriculum. Not only is logic used in the humanities, it is uniquely valued in mathematics and science. Recently in the “progressive” school model, the humanities have taken a backseat to the rise of STEM. The classical model notes both as important to a critical thinker. Students learn logic through numbers and words. Students hypothesize and experiment. They write and explain themselves. They create arguments and prove them. These are all very valuable skills in every discipline, serving students into adulthood. The only focus in the classical model is on the student’s ability to think for themselves. There is no push for STEM, no push for humanities. Both coexist as equals.
5. Classical education teaches for knowledge’s own sake, not to a test.
Even since the 1990s, research has shown that standardized tests are not indicative of student knowledge or success. The testing conducted by the public school system is high-stakes and stressful. It puts an undue burden on both students and teachers. While tests can be useful, a single multiple-choice test cannot accurately show the results of a year’s learning. The classical model de-emphasizes standardized testing. Instead, students take teacher-made exams that make sense. They test on exactly what they learned. The classical model also places high importance on the Socratic method. Students get probing questions to get them reasoning their logic out loud. The test is more a conversation about what they learned. The teacher poses insightful questions, gaining insightful responses from the students. This method is infinitely better at assessing critical thinking skills than a multiple-choice test.
6. Classical education creates independent thinkers.
It’s safe to say that the Common Core system is not well-liked. The plan for public school standards was to give students clear, measurable goals. These standards are one-size-fits-all. They do not account for teaching styles, learning styles, or individual students. How can we expect a system that treats all students the same to teach them to think independently? We can’t! Instead, the three stages of the trivium build upon each other to create an individual. Particularly in the rhetoric stage, students learn to be independent thinkers. The rhetoric stage prizes persuasive speaking, as well as effective writing that engages the subject. Students leave the program with this final stage in their minds. They emerge as well-spoken, well-read individuals capable of stating well-researched opinions.
7. Classical education is traditional education.
Classical education originated in the Hellenistic world. It educated great figures such as Socrates, Plato, Alexander the Great. Don’t our students deserve the same commitment to education that these men received? One of the first tenets of classical education is that humans are set apart from other beings. They are capable of logic and reason, ideas huge in the Enlightenment. The goal is to make the world make sense. As the ancients did, students use logic to explain the world around them. Students are also exposed to all the technology, ideas, and literature of our modern age. The past and the present are both highly valued in the classical model, contributing to student success.
8. Classical education forces student engagement.
The Socratic method is crucial for classical instruction. This method is student-centered, rather than teacher-centered. It is not a lecture! While lectures do have their place, the Socratic model allows students to express themselves as individuals. The educator acts as a facilitator. Students interact with each other, debating and discussing the topic. Students are actively engaged in their learning. This style also develops an organic interest in the subject, as students must engage to be able to discuss. As a result, they also grow in their communication and reasoning skills. Students enjoy coming to class and preparing. They get individual, immediate feedback from their instructor. Students use their skills learned in the rhetoric stage and directly engage with the material.
9. Classical education educates the entire child, developing a well-rounded, prepared adult.
Through Socratic instruction, the trivium, and equal emphasis on all subjects, classical education works. The methods work together to create an intelligent, well-rounded critical thinker. Students emerge able to form well-researched opinions and defend them with clear arguments. They express themselves through speaking and writing. They are confident in themselves and their thoughts.
Does this sound right for you or your student? Look into the classical education options around you. Classical education is growing every day! There is surely a good option for you.