Definition of Classical Education

Classical education (as we define it) is a learning approach that’s based in antiquity. It usually involves the trivium (or the quadrivium); the grammar stage, the logic stage, and the rhetoric stage which is based on Dorothy Sayer’s Lost Tools of Learning.

The term ‘classical’ usually refers to the Graeco-Roman world; the classic age covered about 1,000 years of history. Classic education exerted a massive influence on the culture around the 7th century BC to the 5th century AD. In our Western world, we can track our culture to the Graeco-Roman world.This being said, there’s no patent on the term ‘classic’. As Douglas Wilson explains in his book, The Case for Classical Christian Education:

No one holds the copyright on the word classical, and given the nature of the word, there has been something of a scramble in the various manifestations of classical education. This is not surprising, especially in a time when classical can refer to a ’57 Chevy, an original cola formula, the early Beach Boys, or a classic rock radio station. (p.81)

In fact, Wilson’s definition of classical education refers more to our Christian heritage instead of the Greek heritage definition I used in the above. Wilson profers his definition of Christian classical education, saying:

So what then is the definition of classical education?…classical education, as I am using the phrase, refers to a particular pedagogical approach together with an emphasis on passing on the heritage of the West. The pedagogy refers to our commitment to Dorothy Sayers’s basic insight – that children grow naturally through stages that correspond nicely with the three elements of the Trivium. We teach the grammar of all subjects to the younger children; we teach dialectic to the children of junior-high age; and we teach the rhetorical disciplines to the high school students. (pp. 84-85)

He then goes on to add the reason we study Western culture most in Classical education is that we want to understand our Christian culture; and simply, the West has had the best advances in the Christian faith. Therefore, to omit a decent study of the West’s culture in Classical education is like trying to study the history of the early church while omitting all references to Constantine; it is an incomplete history and representation of facts.

As you can see the definition can vary, depending on the reference point of the speaker. Because the definition varies widely, there are a number of things a classical education can refer to as we’ll discuss below.

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Originally posted by Rebbecca Devitt
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