The Benefits of a Classical Education

One of the few bright spots of the past twelve months of the experiment into on-line learning for the masses is that many parents were able to experience what their students were learning up-close and personal.  As many students struggled academically and psychologically during this time, some parents became de facto students again, having to learn along with their children so they could assist them in completing assignments or studying for tests.  Some of the curriculum offered was outstanding, but some of the material left parents with question marks.  In spite of their best efforts, most teachers definitely struggled with on-line instruction, so some of the substandard curriculum was a result of that struggle and a real effort to avoid leaving any child behind. 

However, the issues with the curriculum beg the question of how curriculum is chosen in a particular school district.

There is no single answer for that question. In some cases, administrations or curriculum directors will dictate curriculum, in some cases teacher cohorts will choose the curriculum, and in some cases individual teachers will make recommendations.  Many urban schools or larger school districts generally follow national trends, whereas many rural schools tend to offer a more traditional curriculum approach.  Unfortunately, new trends in curriculum are being introduced at regular intervals, in many cases driven by pressure from government or large curriculum providers, often without the years of research and proven effectiveness that should be required before instituting a new curriculum.

As a result of the tutoring we have done over the years, we have been exposed to many different types of curriculum, covering all subject areas, from school districts all over the Fox Valley. 

In our experience, the more traditional, cohesive, and focused the curriculum, the easier it is for our students to learn, to retain, and to utilize that information later.  We have seen many ‘new trends’ come and go, some having a negative impact on large segments of the student population. 

One type of curriculum that we are very familiar with and that we would whole-heartedly recommend for school districts throughout the country is Classical Education.  In full disclosure, our children have/do attend St. Ignatius Catholic School in Kaukauna, so we have seen the benefits of a classical curriculum for over five years now.  So, what is Classical Education, and why has it been so successful for so many years?

Classical education has been the traditional form of education for literally thousands of years.  As one leading classical institution explains, “We teach differently because we have a different perspective on the Child. We believe that she is nothing less than the Divine Image, an icon of the invisible God.  She must be taught personally, in relationship.”

Classical schools and educators are committed to cultivating wisdom and virtue in their students, creating great thinkers and great leaders.

The elementary years in classical education focus on knowledge – filling the students’ minds with information they will need later.  2 + 2 always equals 4, science facts and science theory are separated out, and the Socratic method (asking the students questions like, “How would you solve this problem?”) is not utilized at all during this phase of education.  All subjects are taught in relationship to each other and in relationship to the wonder of the human person. 

The history of world is taught, with all of its blemishes and challenges, as well as individual stories of courage and strength.  In addition, classical educators take responsibility for the western tradition: to receive it, to assess it, to preserve it, and to hand it on to the next generation.  Current events are introduced in later elementary school, but the curriculum is not concerned with the dictates or the happenings of the current age.  Classical education students become excellent communicators through exposure to formal writing instruction, Latin, public speaking, spelling, and vocabulary. 

Students are taught how to be truly human in relationship to their maker and in their relationship to others.  The expectations of students, teachers, and administration regarding conduct, dress, and interactions with each other are not driven by the culture of the day but by the realization of the dignity of the human person.  Students are taught to think outside of themselves and to put their struggles and challenges in context to the struggles of human history. 

Classical education is a tried-and-true teaching model that works for students of all backgrounds and all learning abilities.  As the trend to classical education continues to blossom all over the country and the world, we hope that all those responsible for curriculum decisions will look more closely at the classical model. 

For all of those inside and outside the school walls who are frustrated with the challenges of the current education system, there is definitely hope for our students in classical education.