Royal Children, Royal Education

In times past, children in royal families were tutored, nurtured, and trained in hopes that they would be adequately prepared to lead the nation.  Dr. Tom Korcok reminds us that all of our children are royalty, having been adopted into the family of God by virtue of their Baptism.  As such, they deserve the best possible education we can provide for them.  Furthermore, our children should be prepared through their education to become the wise leaders of tomorrow, able to carry out their vocations in service of neighbour and nation.  Finally, our children should be catechized in the faith once delivered to the saints, for “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Royal Holloway, University of LondonIf you are a parent of child(ren) between the ages of zero and five, you have probably already started thinking about what options you have when it comes time for school: Public school, private school, or home school.  We are here to advocate for the home school – but not just any type of home school.  We are exploring and learning what it means to have a Classical Lutheran home school.  We believe this idea is intrinsically connected with the idea of a distinctively Lutheran home.  We invite you to contribute your ideas and thoughts along the way, so that this journey may be a fruitful one.

Classical Lutheran Homeschoolers

“For if we wish to have excellent and able persons both for civil and Church leadership, we must spare no diligence, time, or cost in teaching and educating our children, so that they may serve God and the world.” – Martin Luther, Large Catechism, Explanation of the Fourth Commandment

“All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.” – Aristotle

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” – Solomon, Proverbs 1:8

“The eclectic curriculum of the modern school… aggravat[es] the young person’s sense of helplessness and confusion in the face of a growing mass of information and opinion. Because of his cluttered, disorderly mind — helpless to make the fundamental connections between basic ideas, or to find reference points for its inchoate sensibilities — the young person cannot participate intelligently in the public debate over the great issues confronting his nation and his times.” – David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, 1999.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Solomon, Proverbs 22:6

“The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.” – Plato

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – St. Paul, Ephesians 6:4

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” – St. Paul, Philippians 4:8-9

What is a Classical Education?

A classical education, also referred to as a liberal arts education, employs traditional methods that have been used in Western education since the 2nd century. It is fundamentally different from, one might even say opposite to, progressive education in its philosophy, approach, content, and outcome.

Classical education is language-centred, not image-centred.  Students learn primarily through words (reading, listening and writing), as opposed to images (pictures, videos, television, etc.).  Language learning and image learning require very different thinking processes.  To learn through language, one must first understand the words and sentences, and then extract the concepts from them.  Learning through images allows the mind to be much more passive.  Language-based learning is far more rigorous training for the mind.

Classical education follows the pattern of the trivium, the three stages of learning called the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages.  These stages are in line with the way our brains are wired.

In the early years of education, the grammar stage (usually about ages 6 – 10, or grades 1 – 4), children are like sponges and are able to absorb facts very easily.  Young children enjoy and are very good at memorizing facts, and this is the time for them to do so.  Multiplication tables, Bible verses and stories, parts of the catechism, poetry, rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, etc. should all be learned “by heart” at this time.  Subjects to study include English (Spelling, Grammar, Reading, Writing), Arithmetic, History (preferably chronological, ie. beginning with Creation) and Geography, Science (Biology, Astronomy, Chemistry, and Physics), Latin (and, in Canada, French), Theology, Music and Art.  This is the time to lay a solid foundation for the future years.

One important aspect of a classical education is that it employs a parts-to-whole approach (vs. a whole-to-parts approach) in the grammar stage.  One concrete example of this is teaching reading.  Classical schools will use phonics-based methods to teach reading.  Phonics allow children to learn the “parts” of a word first, and then put the parts together to form the “whole.”  Some popular learn-to-read methods advocate whole language instruction, whereby children learn to read entire words right away, ignoring the tedious step of learning individual letter sounds.  The problem with this kind of an approach is that children must literally memorize thousands of words, and they still often struggle with or are unable to read words that they have not encountered before.  Parts-to-whole education focuses on teaching the building blocks in each subject area, and teaching them thoroughly.  The student will then be equipped to piece these assimilated facts together into meaningful structure.  Whole-to-parts education gives the student the entire picture first, and then pulls out bits and pieces and explains them on an “as needed” basis.  The problem with this is that it is very frustrating for young minds that are not yet able to think in this analytical way.  (A good discussion on and convincing argument for parts-to-whole instruction can be found on pages 224 – 228 of “The Well-Trained Mind” by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.)

In the logic stage (ages 10 – 14, or grades 5 – 8), a child’s brain has the capacity for more abstract thought.  This is when the subjects of Algebra and Logic are introduced.  Logic is applied to all subject areas.  The student is taught to analyze cause and effect and find relationships between different subject areas.  Instruction often focuses on answering the question “Why?”  In Science, students learn the scientific method.  In Writing, paragraph construction and supporting a thesis are taught.  In Reading, students will learn to criticize and analyze texts, etc.

Instruction in formal logic is a key component of the curriculum in this stage.  (Note that courses in formal logic draw heavily on the grammar that was learned in the first four years of schooling.  If by this stage a child does not know the difference between a subject and a predicate, he will not be able to do well in formal logic studies.)

The third stage, the rhetoric stage, corresponds to the high school years (ages 14 – 18, or grades 9 – 12).  This is when students begin to express their own thoughts and ideas.  With a solid knowledge base (grammar stage) and good analytical skills (logic stage), the student now learns the art of expression and debate.  The student is encouraged to use the facts he or she has learned, apply the rules of logic to them, draw his or her own conclusions, and then express them clearly and elegantly.

Classical education emphasizes language and literature.  Latin is a key part of the core curriculum.  There are many good reasons for this.  Here is a very quick summary of the top two:  Firstly, Latin trains the mind to think in an orderly way.  Secondly, Latin helps in learning English and other languages.

The study of the Great Books  is an important part of the high school curriculum.  The Great Books include writings by Aristotle and Plato, the Constitution of our country, books of the Bible, books by Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis, poetry by Edgar Allen Poe, translations of classics in other languages, and the list goes on and on.  The classically-educated high school graduate has not only read a good cross-section of classic literature, but is also able to draw from an extensive knowledge base to understand the times, cultures, and contexts within which these works were written, analyze the ideas presented in those works, formulate opinions and conclusions about them, and then express them eloquently and convincingly in written and oral communication.

Classical education also emphasizes History.  All subject matter is taught within a historical context.  Theology, Art, Music, Literature, yes, even Science and Mathematics, have a historical component to them.  We cannot study Lutheran theology in North America without knowing about the history of religion, without knowing what was going on politically in Europe at the time of the Reformation, and even without knowing something about the history of the New World.  We cannot appreciate Beethoven’s symphonies without understanding the time period in which he lived and the context in which he was composing.  We cannot study a great literary work without knowing something about the time in which it was written and the time in which it is set.  We cannot fully understand even Chemistry or Physics without knowing something about the historical development of the theories and discoveries in these fields.  A good understanding of world history shapes one’s understanding of all other subjects.

The paragraphs above are an attempt to give a brief summary of some of the key components of classical education.  For further information on this subject, we would encourage you to visit the websites on the Links page.


[1] Great Books refers to a curriculum and a book list. Mortimer Adler [2] lists three criteria for including a book on the list: a) the book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times; b) the book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit; c) the book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.

[2] Adler, Mortimer, A Second Look in the Rearview Mirror, MacMillan Publishing Company, 1st Collier Books Trade Ed edition, 1993.


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