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What is Classical?

In the 1940’s the British author, Dorothy Sayers, wrote an essay entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In her writing, she called for a return to the application of the seven liberal arts of ancient education, the first three being the “Trivium” – grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Miss Sayers also compared the three stages of children’s development to the Trivium. Specifically, she matched what she called the “Poll-parrot” stage with grammar, “Pert” with logic, and “Poetic” with rhetoric.  At IDCA, we strive to apply this classical education in a Christian context. Doug Wilson, a founding board member of the Logos School, explained the classical method further in his book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.

An Excerpt From Doug Wilson’s Book, “Recovering The Lost Tools Of Learning:”

“The structure of our curriculum is traditional with a strong emphasis on “the basics.” We understand the basics to be subjects such as mathematics, history, and language studies. Not only are these subjects covered, they are covered in a particular way. For example, in history class, the students will not only read their text, they will also read from primary sources. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric will be emphasized in all subjects. By grammar, we mean the fundamental rules of each subject (again, we do not limit grammar to language studies), as well as the basic data that exhibit those rules. In English, a singular noun does not take a plural verb. In logic, A does not equal not A. In history, time is linear, not cyclical. Each subject has its own grammar, which we require the students to learn. This enables the student to learn the subject from the inside out. 

The logic of each subject refers to the ordered relationship of that subject’s particulars (grammar). What is the relationship between the Reformation and the colonization of America? What is the relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence? As the students learn the underlying rules or principles of a subject (grammar) along with how the particulars of that subject relate to one another (logic), they are learning to think. They are not simply memorizing fragmented pieces of knowledge.  

The last emphasis is rhetoric. We want our students to be able to express clearly everything they learn. An essay in history must be written as clearly as if it were an English paper. An oral presentation in science should be as coherent as possible. It is not enough that the history or science be correct. It must also be expressed well.”

At the Grammar Stage, students are able to apply a concrete level of thinking. The curriculum in the Grammar Stage will require students to gather and retain large amounts of basic information from each curricular area. Students will primarily use the following methods of learning: memorization, recitation, games, written and oral drills/exercises, and flash cards.

During the Logic Stage stage, students are able to apply an analytical level of thinking. Students will begin to analyze the relationship of the information gathered at the Grammar Stage. The curriculum in the Logic Stage will require students to synthesize knowledge in order to demonstrate the interrelationship of this learned information. Students will primarily use the following methods of learning: questioning, debate and discussion, experiments, research, and cross-curricular projects.

A classically trained student moves to an abstract level of thinking at the Rhetoric Stage. The curriculum in the Rhetoric Stage will require students to demonstrate their proficiency in clearly expressing what they have learned while purposefully applying their acquired knowledge and understanding to life issues. Students will primarily use the following methods of learning: essays, oral presentations, debate, defense papers, cross-curricular projects, and written expression.

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