Is a Classic Education with Old School Academics Right for Your Child?

Whatever ever happened to learning Latin, right? Who threw logic out the window? And why did they get rid of rhetoric? If you’re scratching your head at these academic enigmas, you might want to take a closer look at the classical instruction some charter schools provide.

One of the primary movers in the development of the national charter school system were parents who wanted a more traditional or classical education for their children. A classical education is based on the traditions of Western culture including literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, history, art, and languages. It’s a systematic framework of study to teach all human knowledge.

What’s a Charter School?

Charter schools design their own curriculum, their own rules of conduct and discipline, and all other details of school operation, including finances. They are free to operate as non-profits or for-profit schools after they have been approved by their public state charter school regulatory board. Licenses are reviewed every few years to ensure that the school lives up to its stated intentions. Charter schools do not charge tuition.

Classical Education, Religion, and Charter Schools

There are many religious schools that have been giving a classical education for years. They’re generally private, tuition-based, and affiliated with a local religious institution. But what about charter schools that provide a classical education? Do they teach religion too? No, they are not allowed to give religious instruction but they are allowed to teach religion as a secular subject area. Prayer or any other form of religious observance cannot be required in any public school.

What Does a Classical Education Look Like?

Typically, a classical education is broken down into three phases that take into account a child’s mental development and capabilities. The first phase is primary education, which teaches a child how to learn. During the secondary phase, the student is taught that history is a conceptual framework for all knowledge. Secondary education teaches the facts, beginning skills, and practices of every field of knowledge. Students choose an area of specialization in the third phase, which may include an apprenticeship.

The Primary Years

Kindergarten through fourth grade are the primary years where children focus on a trivium education that consists of three areas of study: Grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Grammar teaches the mechanics of language and gives meaning and identity to all that the children learn. It enables them to understand facts like an orange is an orange and not an apple. Logic then develops the faculty of reasoning and analysis to establish valid, non-contradictory relationships among facts. This provides systematic understanding of a subject. It enables children to understand the difference between the orange and the apple yet also identify them both as fruit. Logical reasoning then uses rhetoric, to argue, debate, and persuade so that the facts of grammar and their logical relationships can be communicated outward.

The Secondary Years

In the secondary phase of learning (grades five through eight), the quadrivium is added. The quadrivium focuses on learning about matter and quantity in the subject areas of arithmetic, geometry, harmonic theory, and astronomy. History is the context for these subjects and early classical texts are often assigned. Biographies of important thinkers are also popularly used.

The Socratic method of teaching is favored in a classical education. It is defined as “a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.” The teacher’s role is to ask leading questions, bring out latent ideas in the students, and help them to stay within the rules of correct reasoning.

The Tertiary Years

With a strong foundation of the trivium method and extensive exposure to all areas of knowledge, the student is now ready to pursue what interests him or her most in grades eight and beyond. Historically, this was accomplished through the apprentice or tutor system. Philosophy and theology can also be a part of the third phase. The strong foundation of how to gather and bring order to facts, how to use reasoning to understand, and how to communicate knowledge to others now comes to bear in any subject the student wishes to pursue.

Modern Classical Education

The charter schools that follow the classical approach are committed to cultivating the academic learning and personal character of students through a rigorous, liberal arts program. Amassing a wealth of knowledge is the goal in order to be able to achieve wisdom. These charter schools have a strongly defined, traditional, classical-liberal curriculum designed to prepare students to become active, responsible members of their community.

Classical educators typically have a high view of humanity. They are committed to cultivating virtue and wisdom in students. And importantly, they believe that the world makes sense and that sense is knowable. Students are typically exposed to classical literature and master works in art and music, and exceptional scientific thinkers in an integrated curriculum with idea-focused teaching.

How to Find a Classical Charter School

To read in more detail about charter schools and where they fit into public education, visit the  Center For Public Education site. You will find everything you need to know about their financial responsibilities, governance, and the research data on charters in general. Search for classical charter schools in the Center for Educational Reform directory for local schools that meet your needs. And remember, you can always get together with other parents interested in the classics and start your own charter!

Will you be giving your children a classical education? Why or why not?

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Tania Mashti
Kind of cool to see something old school when everyone seems to be going more towards the progressive teaching