By Dr. Eric Howard, Board of Trustees Education Committee Chairman
Of our “3 Cs”, the concept of a Classical education can be most difficult to explain. This is why the board of trustees, in conjunction with the education and marketing committees, has been working on a clear and concise definition to encapsulate what we mean by “Classical Education,” so that all of us can more clearly articulate it to prospective families, and for our own edification. A few things it doesn’t mean: Classical education does not mean “more homework,” it doesn’t mean “studying only things that happened 500 years ago,” and it doesn’t mean “useless in today’s technologically driven society.”
It does mean that history, politics, society, language, scientific discovery, etc. are all intertwined, and it is essential to understand their relationships. It does recognize that God has wired the human brain to develop differently as we grow. A Classical education emphasizes that while facts are important (aspects of Grammar), the ability to analyze and make logical sense of information is also important (Logic), culminating in the ability to transform those facts into expressions of creativity (Rhetoric). A Classical education also emphasizes the fact that, regardless of our vocation, we will always have to present a studied opinion or debate about a “fact” with others who may not see eye to eye with us – either over an engineering design, a legal matter, the best word for a song, or why Jesus is the Christ.
Finally, a Classical education places a value not only on “facts,” but upon truth, beauty, and goodness. These adornments should be incorporated into both how and what we do, as is fitting for those working for a King. The Hill Country Board of Trustees is committed to our mission of providing a Christ-centered and Classical education to help prepare our young children and produce the young men and women who impact their world for the kingdom of our Risen Savior.
“It is a matter of great satisfaction to me to hope that my children will be in circumstances to receive a good education. Mine was defective and I feel the inconvenience, if not the misfortune of not receiving a classical education. Knowledge is the food of genius, and my son, let no opportunity escape you to treasure up knowledge.”—Sam Houston
“Isolating the student from large sections of human knowledge is not the basis of a Christian education. Rather it is giving him or her the framework for total truth, rooted in the Creator’s existence and in the Bible’s teaching so that in each step of the formal learning process the student will understand what is true and what is false and why it is true or false.”—Francis Schaeffer
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to rather to make man a more clever devil.”—C.S. Lewis
The Upper School Humanities faculty is convinced that the Classical approach best enables students to achieve their own, as well as their parents’, educational goals. What is our rationale?
First of all, the Upper School Humanities department chooses its course content within the Classical context. We include the principles, goals, and forms of the ancients that display the lasting values of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Seventh and eighth graders, for example, study the epics of Homer and evaluate his poetic devices, as well as his heroes’ virtues of honor and loyalty. Our ninth graders engage with the Old Testament patriarchs and examine their ability (or inability) to live within God’s covenantal Law.
Secondly, the term Classical applies to teaching methods or “pedagogy.” In our humanities courses we focus on the mental reasoning and skills peculiar to the Logic and Rhetoric stages of development of students. For example, we frequently utilize the Socratic method of questioning at the Logic stage to promote critical thinking necessary for future learning in college and career. We require our upperclassmen to write complex essays or give presentations to their peers to demonstrate mastery of the material. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, our coursework fosters spiritual development through biblical integration with knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
Finally, a Classical Humanities education represents a philosophy of learning. We believe that the integration of content from one subject to another will give our students the broadest understanding of God’s supervision of the history and achievements of mankind. To this end, we have developed a Humanities curriculum that extensively integrates studies in history, literature, and Bible; a single teacher or team of teachers works to coordinate readings and assignments within a chronological framework. We believe that this avoidance of the typical compartmentalized approach enables our students to participate in the “Great Conversation” which has engaged thinkers through the ages. Ultimately, our Classical philosophy values learning as a lifelong goal…a task encouraged by our great Creator in His Word.
The first years of schooling are the “Grammar Stage” of the Trivium, not because students spend the entire time studying English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all learning are laid. In the Grammar stage, students enjoy memorizing and naturally absorb information. Therefore, during this period, education involves not just self-expression and self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts with a heavy emphasis placed on mastering the basic concepts of each subject area. Students learn the rules of phonics, spelling, and grammar, and memorize the foundational vocabulary of math, science and foreign language. History is taught on a timeline. By the time students exit the Lower School at Hill Country, they have memorized eighty key events and dates, which serves as a foundation for continued study in the Upper School. As students learn foundational mathematical concepts, mastery of math facts is required; therefore, students participate in daily math drills to build automaticity, which serves as a critical foundation for higher-level math.
We use teaching methods in the Lower School that are also uniquely Classical, including chanting, singing, rhyming, drills, and games. Hands-on work and the integration of subject areas are also used to facilitate comprehension. Learning through discovery brings units of study to life as students participate in grade-level events like Egyptian Day and the Renaissance Festival. Quality literature that has stood the test of time builds strong reading skills and enriches the study of many subjects.
The Classical approach also promotes development of logic and rhetoric skills at all stages. Through the use of questioning techniques and hands-on learning, teachers help students think logically and develop higher-order thinking skills. Even very young students are led to make applications, analyze and evaluate information, and create. Rhetoric skills are developed as students regularly participate in oral presentations and Bible recitations in class and in Speech Meet.
To learn more about the Lower School at Hill Country, visit the Lower School Academics page of our website.
During medieval times, educated people in the West studied a broad liberal arts curriculum designed to prepare students to think and learn for themselves, and to actively participate in the Great Conversation of their day. This Classical Liberal Arts Curriculum defined what it meant to be an educated person who was well versed in all topics of the day. Such a person was prepared for life, including further education, which in medieval times usually meant advanced study in theology or philosophy. The curriculum was vocational only in the sense that it provided students a requisite breadth of primary knowledge.
You may be surprised to know that a medieval classical education consisted of much more than the Trivium. The second part of the curriculum was called the Quadrivium and included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Borrowing Trivium language, arithmetic may be considered the fundamental, “Grammar stage” content of the Quadrivium, followed by application in space (geometry), then in time (astronomy), then in space and time (music). Classical scholars recognized the importance of arithmetic and the value of its application in understanding human existence and participating in the Great Conversation. Math and science were highly esteemed and required topics of study in the medieval classical tradition. Today, when someone receives a liberal arts education, it is often strong in language arts and humanities but weak in math and science. This is an incomplete implementation of a Classical Liberal Arts Curriculum.
At Hill Country, we believe that math and science are critically important components of a Classical education. Our Upper School math program aims for student mastery of a finite list of core skills by requiring a higher standard along with placement options and extra practice for those who need it. We encourage curiosity and exploration in our science program in the same awe-inspiring spirit as David professed in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” We are committed to fostering excellence in math and science as well as in the humanities.
To learn more about the math and science program at Hill Country, visit the Academics section of our website.
In this continuing blog series, we are examining Classical education and the way in which we implement it to educate students at Hill Country Christian School. Classical education occurs in three distinct developmental stages known as the Trivium.
The first years of schooling are the Grammar Stage, not because students spend the entire time studying English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all learning are laid. In the Grammar Stage, students enjoy memorizing and naturally absorb information. Therefore, during this period, education involves not just self-expression and self-discovery, but also the learning of facts. Hill Country students learn rules of phonics, spelling, and grammar; poems; the vocabulary of foreign languages; the stories of history and literature; descriptions of plants, animals, and the human body; the facts of mathematics—the list goes on. These tools prepare a student for the second phase of Classical education, the Logic Stage.
The second phase of the Classical education, the Logic Stage, is a period when a student begins to pay attention to cause and effect, the relationships between different fields of knowledge, and the way facts fit together into a logical framework. By middle school, a child begins to think more analytically. Middle school students are less interested in discovering facts and more interested in asking, “Why?” During these years, the student begins to apply Logic to all academic subjects. The Logic of writing, for example, includes paragraph construction and learning to support a thesis. The Logic of reading involves the criticism and analysis of texts, not simple absorption of information. The Logic of history demands that the student find out why the War of 1812 was fought rather than simply reading about the events. The Logic of science requires that the child learn the scientific method. These tools, combined with the tools learned in the Grammar Stage, prepare a student for the final phase of Classical education, the Rhetoric Stage.
The final phase of a Classical education, the Rhetoric Stage, builds upon the first two stages. Students have acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to arrange facts into arguments. At this point, the high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student of Rhetoric applies the rules of Logic learned in middle school to the foundational information learned in the early grades and expresses conclusions in clear, forceful, and elegant language. Students research important themes and present these concepts in papers and speeches. They finish Hill Country well-prepared to become life-long learners who influence the world for Christ.
Parents interested in learning more about the Classical methodology of education are encouraged to read Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans.
At Hill Country Christian School, we believe that we offer parents and students something different than other educational institutions in our area. We define these distinctives as our “3 Cs.”
In this new blog series, we’d like to discuss in depth one of these Cs: Classical education. You may be wondering, just what is a Classical education?
Hill Country Christian School subscribes to a Classical philosophy of education that requires students to master a common core of the liberal arts and sciences while developing the skills to be life-long learners and effective communicators. A Classical education recognizes the universal and eternal truths revealed in Scripture and reflected in the pre-eminent cultures, philosophies, and literature produced by Western civilization. The primary goal of a Classical school is to transcend simple knowledge and skills by developing wisdom and eloquence in its students. A Classically educated student is one who honors virtue, defends truth, recognizes falsehood, celebrates beauty, speaks articulately, writes persuasively, and pursues excellence in all endeavors.
Classical education is a not only a philosophy, however, it is also a curriculum and a methodology. Therefore, its definition and implementation can vary from school to school. As we frequently say, if you ask 100 different Classical schools to define “Classical education,” you will get 100 different answers!
Classical education is a time-tested approach that aligns instruction and curriculum to a child’s cognitive development and consists of three stages known as the Trivium, which creates a progression of learning from knowledge to understanding to wisdom:
|Trivium Stage||Grades||Academic Focus||Biblical Correspondent|
Curriculum and biblical worldview are integrated across subject areas so that students develop depth of knowledge and wisdom, equipping them to become independent, critical thinkers and life-long learners who impact the world with the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ.
In future posts we will be exploring the Trivium in greater depth, as well as what each of these stages looks like in practice at Hill Country.