What is Classical Education?

Classical Education

Classical Education

at Trinitas School


In recent decades a revival of classical education has occurred in the United States—particularly Christian classical education. This education has been defined a variety of ways by different schools and organizations during this revival, but no singular definition of classical has emerged. When we say “classical education” at Trinitas, we are speaking chiefly about classical pedagogy, that is, method, and classical content, or subject material. So Trinitas is classical both in the way it teaches and in the what it teaches. The two overlap in many ways, but between them we can make some distinctions.

Educational Philosophy

Classical pedagogy at Trinitas is based in part on the ancient Trivium, which describes early education (K-12 for us today) as having three parts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric, sometimes also described as grammar, dialectic, and poetic.

The grammar phase is concerned with the language of a topic or subject, the basic knowledge and terms and definitions that allow one to begin to form an awareness of and begin to discuss an idea. For example, the grammar of history is made up of names, places, dates, and similar basic facts. Where once no conception of a particular idea existed, knowledge of basic facts gives shape to that idea in the mind, and thus a framework is created within which further conception can form. ​
Educational Philosophy
In the logic phase, cause and effect are the focus. The interrelatedness of all the basic knowledge acquired in the grammar phase begins to emerge—what was only a framework, a skeleton really, now begins to take on flesh. The logic of history, for example, might be discovering how the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century led to the colonization of North America in the seventeenth century, as seemingly unrelated facts become connected in the mind and true understanding blossoms from what was once only knowledge.

The rhetoric phase draws on the knowledge of the grammar phase and the understanding formed in the logic phase to cultivate wisdom. Students at this stage begin to apply wisdom in a beautiful, winsome, convincing way. Opinions, judgments, and even persuasion are the focus of this stage of learning as students begin to join the great conversation of ideas that seeks to bring about human flourishing. The rhetoric of history for example might be a well-articulated and graceful oral argument of how John Winthrop’s ideal of a “city on a hill” was the beginning of American Exceptionalism.

Any subject or topic can be explored, examined, and learned using these three phases—the Trivium. The phases of the trivium also align loosely with the way children develop. Dorothy Sayers first described this alignment in her mid-twentieth century essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Sayers asserts that the grammar stage is well-suited to children from the ages of about six to eleven years old. At that age, children love to make up rhymes and songs and ditties. They also love story and hands-on discovery, collecting and recording their findings. Soaking up basic facts and knowledge is easy and fun for children at this age, which makes it the perfect time to teach foundational knowledge about a great many things.

​Children from the ages of about twelve to fifteen years old have a natural propensity to question everything they are taught and to argue with their parents and teachers as much as they argue with each other. This is the perfect time for them to learn cause and effect. It is also the right time for children to learn real logic and debate so they can argue well as they grapple with understanding big ideas.
The rhetoric phase aligns with the development of children at about sixteen to eighteen years old. This phase is also known as the poetic phase, which is fitting because children this age want to express themselves. They are forming their own opinions and judgments and ideals about the world, and they naturally want to persuade the world to adopt their convictions. Now is the time for them to hone their skills in oral and written expression through the practice of public speaking, debate, and oral defense as well as composition of poetry, essays, and well-researched academic theses.
Educational Philosophy
Thus the classical pedagogy employed at Trinitas takes advantage of the Trivium by breaking down each idea or subject taught into the three stages, grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  Each of these phases is also emphasized as it aligns with the natural development of children: the grammar phase in 1st through 6th grades, the logic phase in 7th through 9th grades, and the rhetoric phase in 10th through 12th grades.

Classical Content

Simply put, classical content is the history, literature, philosophy, theology, language, art, and music of the West—from Ancient Greece and Rome to today. Trinitas students study primary sources, drinking deeply from the original authors of ideas instead of dabbling on the surface of them through a steady diet of textbooks. Much attention is given to the interconnectedness of all knowledge so that “subjects” in school are not conceived of as silos of unrelated facts, but are taught as an integrated whole with the Scriptures at the center.

A thorough study of Latin and Greek is at the heart of classical content. These languages are studied as much for the training and development of the mind as they are for the access they give students to both classical texts and the New Testament in their original languages. Not only do these languages help train the brain for better reading and verbal understanding, but they are also effective at developing skills in logic and mathematics, which are vital to classical content. Our students study mathematics through calculus, and science through chemistry II. ​
Classical Content
In short, classical content is what every student in the western hemisphere studied before the early to mid-twentieth century when modern methods of education took public education down the path that led to its present state. It is content that forms the human soul by instilling virtue, ordering loves, providing structure and accountability, and creating culture that is focused on believing truth, creating beauty, and embodying goodness.

If you would like to learn more about classical education, ​here are some resources we recommend.
We were blessed to join the Trinitas family in its first year and all three of my daughters are Trinitas graduates. Not only did they receive an excellent education, they matured as Christian young women who love the Lord and understand his sovereignty over all of his creation. All three went on to succeed in college and are now married with children of their own. We all benefited from our years as a Trinitas family and I recommend it highly to anyone who desires to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
​- Becki
Cato (alumni parent)

 

Trinitas exposed me to passionate teachers and taught me that love for the world is more important than information retention.
– Bobby McGee (alumni)

 

“Trinitas is the complete package for Christian families like us. It provides a high level of education and rich literature not available outside of classical education all with Christian principles. We appreciate the good manners are taught with love in the classrooms and on the playground, teachers and staff devoted to excellence in everything they do, and the safe family-like environment.”
- Sussanna Ibrahim (current parent)

 

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