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Classical Christian
Homeschooling:
Classical Education
at Home

WebMaster:
Christine Miller

Classical Christian
Homeschooling FAQ:
Choosing Curriculum

www.clas...ling.org/faq/choose.html

This page last revised:
February 2003

Copyright
1997-2003

Choosing Classical Curriculum

Christine Miller

Method, not Curriculum

The first thing to remember in choosing classical curriculum is that the classical method is not curriculum dependent. This means that if you understand the goals and the methods of classical education, many different curricula can be used and adapted to meet those goals, to implement those methods. So let us start with reviewing the goals and methods of classical education, and then we can apply that to choosing curriculum.


The Trivium

If the trivium describes the three laws of learning, then remember how children learn and the trivium. In the elementary grades, in the grammar stage (grades 1-6) children think concretely. Appropriate grammar stage curriculum, then, provides the building blocks of knowledge: foundational facts (such as math facts), foundational rules (such as phonics or grammar rules), and foundational information (such as what happened, who did it, when, and where, in history lessons). Inappropriate grammar stage curriculum which does not recognize concrete thinking as a foundation for higher levels of thinking -- analytical or abstract -- might have children comparing and contrasting literature styles or plot themes (analytical) rather than focusing on increasing reading proficiency and ability (concrete); story writing and individual writing style (abstract) rather than writing mechanics (concrete); multiple spatial problem solving techniques (analytical) rather than memorization of math facts and computational accuracy (concrete).

In the junior grades, in the dialectic stage (grades 7-9) children do not abandon concrete thinking, but add to it analytical thinking. Appropriate dialectic stage curriculum, then, provides analytical opportunities: building proofs (such as geometry and logic), presenting opinions (such as writing composition themes), and using value judgments to make comparisons and contrasts (such as literature and history reading discussions). Inappropriate dialectic stage curriculum may have children still doing arithmetic computations (concrete) rather than moving on to algebraic problem solving (analytical); grammar exercises -- nouns, verbs, usage (concrete) rather than logic exercises (analytical); proposing science hypothesis (abstract) rather than testing the validity of established hypothesis (analytical).

In the senior grades, in the rhetoric stage (grades 10-12) children do not abandon concrete or analytical thinking, but add to it abstract thinking. Appropriate rhetoric stage curriculum, then, provides opportunites for children to develop creativity and express their own individuality: writing short stories or poetry (abstract) rather than grammar exercises (concrete); higher mathematics such as elementary functions or calculus (abstract) rather than geometry proofs (analytical); developing a unique coherent theory on a topic, expressed in a research paper, for example, after studying several authors’ theories (abstract) rather than rewording a standard theory in an essay (analytical).


The Language Imperative

The third thing to remember when choosing classical curriculum is to remember the language imperative. The core of classical education is the study of language. In the grammar stage, this means grammar: the rules and conventions of the English language; phonics and reading proficiency, vocabulary development, English grammar (proper usage in speech and writing), writing mechanics, spelling, and sentence analysis (diagramming). This is necessary preparation for the next step of language study in the dialectic and rhetoric stages. Most English and grammar curricula, however, either delay or stretch out this study well into high school, and so the proper foundation for the dialectic and rhetoric studies is not well laid, if at all, before those studies begin; and thus the child does not have the tool of the power of his mind, which is what the full study of language provides him, before he enters college or the work world. So grammar stage English curriculum should include the full scope of English grammar study, and several curricula may have to be used at different times to cover the whole scope.

In the dialectic stage, the next stage of the study of language is logic, which is the study of how the language convention, learned in the grammar stage, is used to discover the truth or falsehood of either thinking (which takes place in language) or spoken or written statements (thinking expressed to others). So dialectic stage English curriculum should include the full scope of logic study.

In the rhetoric stage, the next stage of the study of language is rhetoric, which is the study of how the language convention, both spoken and written, is used to express what logic has shown to be true, and concentrates on the elegant, eloquent, and unique stylistic expression of such truth. The most successful rhetoric stage English curriculum, then, should include the formal study of the principles of rhetoric; oratory, including speech and debate; as well as increasing practice in writing style and individual expression. The exercise of writing the research paper, since it depends on and combines the language skills learned in all three stages, is also an appropriate component of the rhetoric stage English curriculum.

There is a second aspect to the language imperative inherent in classical education. That is the study of Latin and/or Greek, or other inflected language, such as Russian. The reason the focus is usually placed on Latin study is its foundational place to the culture of Western Civilization. The CE Loop moms have put together a short explanation hoping to answer the question, Why Latin? The reason the study of Greek is important as an inflected language is its prominence as a Biblical language, allowing Westerners to read the Scriptures for themselves in the original language. The study of Russian also provides some of the same benefits as the study of Latin, as Russian is also inflected as is Latin and Greek; however, the culture and literature of Western Civilization is not tied to Russian, and English vocabulary is not built on the Russian language as it is on the Latin language.

The best Latin and Greek curricula teach the language deductively, that is, they teach the language through the study and application of its elements, just as the best English grammar curricula does, rather than through look-say or whole word memorization and so on. As far as when and how to begin Latin or Greek study: more information on this question can be found at the CE Loop moms page on Learning Latin; the CCH page Language in the Grammar Stage, and the CCH Language Curriculum pages.


Western Civilization

The fourth thing to remember when choosing classical curriculum, is the emphasis on the study of Western Civilization, especially its history and literature, but also its science, art, music, government, law, philosophy, and so on. In this case, the modern focus on multiculturalism in the study of history, literature, art, music, and so on would not be considered a classical emphasis in education. Remember that the best grammar stage curricula will focus most on concrete thinking and the acquiring of facts knowledge; the best dialectic stage curricula will focus most on analytical thinking and the practice of logical discussion, and the best rhetoric stage curricula will focus most on abstract thinking and the practice of developing individual theory or expression and eloquent and stylistic yet sound communication skills, both spoken and written.


Important Links:

CCH’s Curriculum and Online Catalog

On the Trivium

Overview of the Grammar Stage

Overview of the Dialectic Stage

Overview of the Rhetoric Stage

The Core of Classical Education

Return to the CCH FAQ Index


Changing to Classical Education Teaching Kindergarten


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