What is a Classical Education?
As a school of choice, Apex Community School is unique in many ways.
The phrase “classical” is most often associated with the Greek and Roman civilizations (600 BCE to 476 CE), but cannot be solely restricted in that way. The word is also used to describe things that are defining, extraordinary, enduring and foundational. For over a thousand years the classical philosophy of education was the predominant approach to public and private education.
At the center of Apex’s education program lies the premise that humans, especially children are naturally curious, but not naturally good thinkers. This means that there needs to be a purposeful and deliberate effort to train the mind to think well. Within the educational community of Apex, we understand the word “classical” to carry a combination of both meanings; a foundational, enduring and defining approach to education, rooted in the traditions of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.
While there was a good deal of variety and approaches within the curriculum of both the Greeks and Romans, some consistent themes and practices emerged, most notably the deliberate emphasis on the study of grammar, literature, logic and rhetoric. During the Middle Ages (500-1460 CE) the subjects and approaches of the Greeks and Romans were analyzed and put in a systematic form. From this emerged the curriculum of the trivium (which means “three ways”) containing the subjects of grammar, logic and rhetoric. The word “grammar” is most commonly used to reference that which is necessary to learn when studying a language. However, with regard to the trivium, grammar (along with logic and rhetoric) is understood as a method of dealing with subjects and their content. So while there are many aspects of classical education worthy of deeper explanation, for the purposes of this short web page, we will focus on the trivium.
Apex’s educational framework utilizes the trivium as a way of gaining insight into the learning process. To quote Dr. T.O. Moore, “The student must start by mastering the basic facts – or the grammar – of a subject. Later, one learns to make distinctions and comparisons using the facts one has learned (logic). Finally, a person becomes fluent in the type of learning, whatever the subject may be.” Dr. Moore goes on to clarify the rhetoric phase by saying “In short, the student can talk about it, use what has become [their] own as a person speaks a language fluently.” Not only does the trivium provide an analogy for how learning takes place, but also suggests phases through which a child’s mind may develop and methodologies that are conducive to each phase. Generally speaking, childhood is the age of learning facts, adolescence the age of questioning and later adolescence/early adulthood the age of developing reason (or as often expressed in educational circles today – “critical thinking skills”).
With regard to the primary grades, almost all authorities agree (and our own experience as parents/guardians confirm) that children have an amazing capacity to absorb facts and figures (grammar), so why not offer a curriculum and methodologies that capitalizes on this reality? This is one of the primary reasons Apex has chosen the content-rich Core Knowledge Scope and Sequence as our primary curriculum. To further make the point, high school students are far from being rhetorical; fluent in a given subject and its content and may need to acquire some significant basic facts and figures (grammar) in order to engage a subject logically and rhetorically. Simultaneously, few would deny that high school students have a greater capacity and desire to think more abstractly and logically than primary grade children, if for no other reason than high school students have had more experience and exposure to subjects and content.
Consequently, the framework of the trivium becomes a way for the educational community of Apex to understand the general emphasis placed at different phases of a child’s development: the younger the child, the more grammatical elements; the older the child, the more logical and rhetorical elements, yet no one phase to the exclusion of the others. The following chart will help clarify the stages and some conducive, general methodologies in broad terms:
To summarize, the acquisition and expansion of a child’s knowledge base, logical thinking and analysis and fluency and persuasiveness rests within the classical framework with each “stage” embodying the following general emphases:
● Stage 1: Grammar (K-6th grade)
“Training the mind” focuses on the acquiring and expanding of the child’s knowledge base. This stage demands a rigorous and content rich curriculum. To meet this requirement, the Core Knowledge Curriculum has been selected and additionally provides the broad knowledge base essential for reading and comprehension. For example, this statement from the Los Angeles Times (July, 2010) assumes that the reader has already acquired a relevant knowledge based that will provide them understanding: “The government threw money at corporations, like beans out a window hoping they’d discover the ‘golden egg.’” Reading with understanding is clearly more than decoding and phonics. There is a pre-requisite knowledge base to references, inferences, analogies, metaphors, etc., which allows readers to truly understand reading content. At Apex, this stage generally encompasses the grades Kindergarten through 4th grade.
● Stage 2: Logic (4th – 7th grades)
The second stage utilizes the broad base of knowledge acquired in the first stage, to prompt logical thinking and analysis, finding distinctions and comparisons across subject matter. This success of this stage is based on students having a robust knowledge base with which to apply logic, analysis, critical thinking, problem solving, etc… This stage encompasses 5th-8th grades.
● Stage 3: Rhetoric (6th grade and higher)
The final stage in a classical approach to training the mind, focuses on fluency and persuasiveness, when a learner is so comfortable with subject matter that they appear “fluent,” as they would with a language and thus able to reason, influence, persuade and defend logical thought and positions. At Apex, our 8th grade students will have a final “Exit Project” that will draw on the first two stages and introduce them in a formal way to the final phase, presenting on a project to a panel that will listen, question and challenge. Apex graduates will then have the ability to understand, gain access to and influence the culture in which they live as responsible, well-thinking citizens. They will be prepared to engage their high school and, if they so choose, their university pursuits successfully.
 Some of the ideas in this section were gleaned from Dr. Christopher A. Perrin in his booklet entitled An Introduction to Classical Education, Classical Academic Press, 2004 and from a short paper by Dr. T.O. Moore entitled “Ridgeview and the Perrin Intro,” an augmentation for Dr. Perrin’s booklet provided for a conference on classical education in Boulder, CO; August 201