What does a Classical Curriculum mean?
What Should Schools Teach? is the title of a recent book and an intriguing question in its own right. It is probably also a question that most people do not seriously consider: the curriculum seems set in stone so we can easily assume that what is taught is what must be taught. This is particularly true in the UK, where exams seem to drive the curriculum; the need to prepare students for GCSEs and A Levels dictates what is taught throughout much of a child’s teens.
However, the truth of the matter is that a lively debate is currently going on about the school curriculum, and within that debate there are increased calls for a return to Classical Education. This is particularly relevant to Catholic parents; we must prepare our children for the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as for the world.
What is Classical Education?
The overarching principle behind Classical Education is to give children both the best of all our current knowledge and the tools to acquire further knowledge; the curiosity and ability to learn independently of classrooms and lecture halls. In today’s fast changing world, with disruption round the corner for almost every profession, this has never been more valuable, a fact increasingly recognised among business leaders today.
The curriculum is centred around the Trivium, or three part pattern of Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric; in today’s language, Remembering, Thinking, and Communicating. So pupils spend the first part of their education learning facts, are then given the tools to make sense of these facts, and finally practise communicating the ideas they have learned.
What does that mean in practice?
It means that your child is given a solid grounding in “the very best that has been thought and said”; the best poetry, the best literature, the best art – to equip them in the very best way for the challenges and opportunities of the future. It also means that, from a relatively early age, the pupil takes more responsibility for their own learning at an earlier age than their peers.
At the bottom of this webpage is a sample set of 3rd Grade lessons (equivalent to Year 4 in the English system) from Mother of Divine Grace, a popular American Classical Curriculum on which the Regina Caeli curriculum is based.
As you can see, just because it’s a Classical curriculum doesn’t mean that it’s only Latin and Greek! Pupils have all the other subjects you would expect but within the context of a world with God as creator and with His Truth, Goodness and Beauty as our ultimate goal of education.
What are the advantages of Classical Education?
“Is not the great defect of our education today-a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned-that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.” Dorothy Sayers wrote these words over a century ago, and yet is it not exactly the complaint that so many parents and teachers have today?
The focus on God, the interconnectedness of knowledge, and respect for the past in Classical Education mean that students get a truly rounded education and can go on to study any subject with the ability to place it in its appropriate context.
As the great Catholic educator Stratford Caldecott wrote, “The classical ‘Liberal Arts’ tradition of the West once offered a form of humane education that sought the integration of faith and reason, and that combined the arts and sciences, before these things became separated, fragmented, and trivialized.”
Classical Education forms our children along those lines, meaning that they can achieve all that God has planned for them.
There is a great deal more to be said about classical education but a webpage is probably not the place to say it. A good classical education takes place in the conversations between teacher and student, so if you want to find out more please contact us. We would love to talk more!
Stratford Caldecott: Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education
Stratford Caldecott: Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education
Stratford Caldecott on Education: https://www.secondspring.co.uk/2017/05/07/stratford-caldecott-on-education
Dorothy L. Sayers: The Lost Tools of Learning
Words of Wisdom: Laura Berquist on Classical Education Done Well: https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/words-wisdom-laura-berquist-classical-education-done-well