Watch this compelling, short video from Dr. Constance Nielsen about the powerful impact of classical education in young lives!
The Classical Difference
A Classical Education, for all its diversity of method and approach, seeks to go beyond imparting knowledge to developing the faculties of the mind – observation, memory, categorization, analysis, imagination, et al. Such an education, geared towards skills, forms not only the intellect but the will, where the child becomes a self-controlled and self-directed self-learner. Though subject matter is important, as Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “The “subjects” supply material; but they are all to be regarded as mere grist for the mental mill to work upon.”
Two general features characterize Classical Education. The first is the use of primary sources where the student is able to study and observe things directly rather than through the lens of a summary explanation. These “primary sources” are not only the original writings from the world’s most celebrated authors. In natural science it could be going out into the woods and observing nature through art and journaling. In history, it could be finding historical “artifacts” around the house to analyze according to what they say about the past. In religion, it could be spending time in quiet contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament (the ultimate primary source!).
The second general feature is Socratic – or Memetic – teaching. Socratic method should not be confused with a seminar, where students are given open-ended questions to discuss. While this certainly happens in a Classical setting, Socratic teaching is not open-ended, but “soul leading.” Rather than providing all of the answers up-front, teachers lead their students to discover the truth through their own labors. As guides, the teacher asks questions that gently direct the student towards a goal. Anyone who has read a Socratic dialogue knows that Socrates was not looking for an opinion but asked questions in order to lead his students to the truth. A student can be taught that 2+2=4 through Socratic method.
This type of education produces not only critical thinkers but students who take ownership of their own learning and, through an act of their own will, accept and embrace the labor necessary to learn, to grow, and to discover the truth.
If you want to dig more deeply into Classical Education and the ways students learn through the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric), click here for a short primer!