Educational Philosophies: Classical

First of all, let me apologize for starting a series and then promptly dropping it for a couple of weeks. I promise this was not intentional. Right after I posted the first post, we had some unexpected events that took my time. Things are settling back down to normalcy now, so hopefully I will be able to carry it through this time. :)

I first began learning about Classical Education when I read the book, The Well-Trained Mind: A guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. At the time, Stefan was only one year old, and I was just starting the process of learning about educational philosophies.

The Classical educational philosophy follows the process of the trivium, the three stages of development of children as they progress through their school years.

The Grammar Stage

The grammar stage is considered the building blocks of education. Children at this age are ready to absorb a lot of information. They are sponges and can memorize and repeat back more than most of us realize. Taking this stage of development, the Classical mold uses these grades to have children memorize math, grammar rules, vocabulary, Latin, parts of the human body and plants, history stories, etc. This is, in essence, the filling-of-their-mind stage, so that in the next stage they are ready to go deeper with it.

The Logic Stage

In the middle-school years, a child becomes more capable of abstract thought. This is when a teacher will take all the facts and “grammar” of the grammar stage and begin to analyze it. This is where they take a historical fact that they learned in the grammar stage and find out why it happened, how it is linked to other facts, and what ramifications it had. This is when they take the grammar rules previously memorized and learn how to construct a paragraph that logically supports the thesis. They are maturing and adding reasoning and logic to the data gathered and memorized in the previous stage.

The Rhetoric Stage

The high-school stage builds even further upon the grammar and logic stage. At this point, they should no longer be learning facts about American history and taking multiple-choice tests on it. They should be moving to a much broader scope of learning and thinking. This stage requires the student to do a lot of writing. The student will build on all the facts previously learned, the logic surrounding those facts, and will express themselves in clear, logical, well-supported, and forceful rhetoric.

Classical Education, as the name would imply, supports reading the classics, reading  quality literature and living books and learning Latin and Greek. All of this is an effort to take children back to the primary sources, and teach them how to learn from them, how to think, and then how to support their thought process through good writing.

Is it completely different from the Charlotte Mason approach? Well, depending on who you read, yes or no. :) The similarities lie in using living books and narration. Without going into too much detail, Charlotte Mason is much more relaxed, whereas Classical, if done correctly, is more rigorous. Read this comparison article by Susan Wise Bauer (obviously biased toward Classical, here. Then read a response to that by Karen Glass here.

Classical Education has seen a huge resurgence in our country in the last twenty years. The emphasis on teaching children to think and write is one that has been significantly lacking in most schools. We need only to pick up magazine and news articles to see that faulty logic is everywhere in our culture. The problem lies in that most of us do not know how to detect it.


The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. This is probably the go-to book source for Classical Education. If you don’t know what Classical Education is, this book will give you a thorough understanding. It also includes curriculum suggestions for each grade and subject making it a great resource for any homeschooler.

The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer. This book is newer to me, and I am currently borrowing it, though I plan to buy it. Another great resource, this one is for the adult that feels they are lacking in knowledge of the classics. This first part of this book is on how to read. Following that, she divides the chapters into five different types of reading.

  • The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel
  • The Story of Me: Autobiography and Memoir
  • The Story of the Past: The Tales of Historians (and Politicians)
  • The World Stage: Reading through History with Drama
  • History Refracted: The Poets and Their Poems

She guides the reader in how to read each of these types of genres, and then gives examples of literature that are the classics we should be aware of. I have found this a valuable resource as I try to work my way through some classics.

Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning  by Douglas Wilson

Veritas Press : This website has everything you would need to order. Divided by grade and book you will find many great ideas and resources. They also have an online academy for older students.

Memoria Press: Another great resource for materials following the Classical model. Memoria also has an online academy. a website by Susan Wise Bauer.

Have you had any experience or researched anything about Classical Education or education in general? Please join the discussion.


  1. I do love this philosophy’s focus on reading and writing. And I do think kids develop through stages that involve an increased ability to think logically and then abstractly. But I think the classical approach is too rigorous for my personal taste.

    • Yes, it is definitely very rigorous. I think most people that do “classical” probably actually do of an more eclectic approach. I think especially in early grades it is good to be more relaxed.

  2. Andrea Cavanaugh says:

    I first heard about classical education in college and of the three schools I have taught in, two have been classical. I have much preferred this approach to education over others. I do think you can have the freedom to be eclectic in your approach, though, as you said, and tailor it to fit the child’s needs. Jeff and I are nearly convinced that this is the education we would prefer to give our own children one day (either through homeschooling or a classical school). There are some situations in which I think it wouldn’t be the most helpful (certain learning disabilities, perhaps), though even then I think the approach could be modified.

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Andrea. I love getting your perspective as a teacher.

      “Nearly convinced.” Love that! That is about where I am mainly for the early grades. By middle-school and high-school, I want to have transitioned mostly to the classical approach.

      Having two kids that are vastly different in personality, though, I am already realizing that in the early grades I want to have the flexibility to teach to their learning types. This is all “if” we homeschool all the way through, of course. If we had a school like yours available to us, we would definitely consider it.

      In the end, it is all in the teacher/parent. I know many people that say they are doing Classical (mainly because it is a bit in vogue where we live right now 😉 ) that don’t actually know what Classical is and don’t really do it, even if they use some curriculum that is Classical. (This drives me crazy, btw, but I’ll try not to go there!) I know others that don’t use the term, but are much closer to actually a Classical model.

      Love the model, I just realize that the reality is, I will probably be more eclectic…but isn’t that what a teacher does? Adapt to the needs of the student even within a certain educational philosophy?


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