The classics | Mark’s Remarks


I may be late to the ballgame, as I am just discovering some articles and books on the subject of classical education.

Now really, I’ve read this stuff before and probably dismissed it – especially when I was a college student getting my degree in education. Back then, we were pushing “whole language” and many other new, shiny and flashy ways of teaching. I knew it all and all the old ways of teaching were a bit antiquated and ho hum.

At the time, anyway.

But man alive, how I wish I would have paid more attention. 

So, “late to the ballgame” means a lot of stuff here: I have a couple of years left in my teaching career and am suddenly discovering something that was there all along: classical education.

When you look at the idea and framework of classical education, you can see elements of it in today’s classroom. All of it didn’t go away.  Just like anything else in education, it was repackaged and brought out at times as something new.  Even new programs used bits and pieces.

My quest to learn more started when my oldest son, an English major, began talking to me about Sister Miriam Joseph and her ideas about classic education. I read several articles about her and even ordered her book. Heavy reading, stuff I had to read a couple of times to get it to sink into my thick skull.

Basically, Joseph’s ideas on education go back to ancient times. She talks about education being divided into three phases:  the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages. Her ideas were not new, but she crafted a plan for educating children that made sense and was backed up by years of research and statistics.

Remember hearing about the old days when kids spent their early years of education memorizing, reciting and having things modeled for them? Maybe that was part of your education. Writing down things that were dictated to us. Spelling tests. We got away from that sort of thing, didn’t we?

In classical schooling, this first stage of learning is the “general grammar” stage. Remember when the early days of school were called “grammar school?”  This stage gets kids’ brains forming patterns, learning to order facts and basically using systematic knowledge to form the base of their education. 

Yes, memorization plays a part. Kids learn things by rote memory and it begins to make sense to them as they figure out all the who, what, when and where of a subject.

After this  “rote memory” stage of schooling, kids move on to the “logic phase.” They now have the basic tools and can use those tools to prove things, make sense of things and so on.  This is where the “why” question is answered. Reasoning and understanding are prevalent as they build upon the basics they learned earlier.

Finally, the last stage of education is where kids put their basics and logic together to argue points, persuade people with their knowledge and so on. Basically, students achieve a level of wisdom due to the understanding and knowledge they now have. 


I’ve fussed for years at people in education who throw a fit about kids learning “the same things again and again.” None of them realize the need for repetition, and most of the ones who fuss about it never taught young kids. 

Kids aren’t always developmentally ready to grasp certain concepts, so things are reintroduced and also expounded upon as kids move up in grade levels. In second grade, we may call the branches of government the President, Congress and Supreme Court.  Later, we introduce them to the judicial, legislative, and executive titles.  

Even though there is repetition, there is also progress.

I like classical education models when it comes to history. Classical teaching works on a different period of history as kids move along. Kids in second grade may start with the Egyptian period and learn about just that time period for an entire year. By fifth grade, students are spending a year learning about the modern era. Then, in junior high, the process is started again with periods of history being expounded upon.  

By the time students reach high school, they are able to study history using a high level of understanding and wisdom that has been honed in the two previous stages.

You may be able to see the classical education plan for math, too. Pretty simple: learn those facts! 

Kids just don’t do that anymore. Gone are the days when kids went home and prided themselves on memorizing their math facts.  

Now, everything has to be done at school; even homework is becoming something that teachers have gotten rid of. We do it all at school, including excessive discussions on character education and how kids are supposed to behave. 

We spend an entire year talking about drug education, only to have imbeciles in our little towns hosting underage drinking parties at their homes in order to be the “cool parents.” Good lord.  

Got off on a little tangent. Sorry.

Oh yeah, math facts.  Now, even if they know the why and how of a math problem, students end up making mistakes because they don’t know their facts.  It’s maddening.

It no longer takes a rocket scientist to become top of the class. If your kid actually does their work, reads, and studies their math facts, they can easily be the valedictorian. Kids who just do the basics are a cut above.

Classical education.  Does it make sense to you?  Maybe not.  I can’t say I fully get the whole shebang either. I’m still reading about it all and find it very interesting. But suffice to say the old one-room schoolhouses were doing a lot of things right all along.  Kids memorizing, reading classic literature, delving into subjects and spending lots of time mastering a skill or topic before moving on.  

In one-room schoolhouses, there were several levels of learning going on at the same time and heck, some things you learned by osmosis almost. 

Would you not love to go back in a time machine and just observe? How wonderful that would be for our student teachers today.

Not sure all one-room schoolhouse techniques are still good ideas today, though.  

I doubt sitting in the corner wearing a “dunce” cap would fly these days.

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