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What is Classical Education?


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The Case for Classical Education
by Dr. David J. Vaughan

In “making the case” for a classical education, perhaps the place to start is with a definition. Classical education is an approach to education built upon the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium is the three-legged table upon which the Quadrivium rests. It is comprised of Grammar, Dialectic (or Logic) and Rhetoric.

In this context, Grammar is first the grammar of an inflected language like Greek or Latin. But there is also a “grammar” of other subjects; that is to say, every subject has its core elements. For instance, geography has names of rivers and mountains; history has a simple chronology of names and dates; music has its basic scales, etc. Thus, grammar is not really a “subject;” rather, it is the basic elements of a given discipline.

Dialectic or Logic entails the ability to use language: how to define terms and make arguments; how to make accurate statements and how to detect fallacies in reasoning. Rhetoric, which naturally follows both grammar and dialectic, is the art of expressing oneself accurately, eloquently, and persuasively, in either writing or speech. Like grammar, both dialectic and rhetoric should be viewed not as subjects, but as tools for learning or mastering other subjects. In fact, the Quadrivium makes up those “subjects” whatever they may be. Anyone today who is interested in classical education is really interested in the Trivium, for these are the “lost tools of learning.”

The “case” for classical education is fairly simple. First, modern methods do not work. Nearly 40% of our young people are now illiterate, not to mention their horrible moral condition. Second, the classical method does work. It just so happens that we have the benefit of reviewing hundreds of years of prior application, and the record shows that the classical method produced the greatest minds, the greatest literature and some of the greatest discoveries of mankind.

As a practical matter, the classical method has always been the approach taken to education in Western civilization because the West is the historical product of the Greco-Roman world as mediated through Christianity. To familiarize oneself with the language, literature, history and customs of that world is necessary if one is to understand Western history, literature, language, music and art. In a word, one needs a classical education in order to be culturally literate. The only other option is to be a cultural barbarian.

What better case can be made for a classical education?


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