What makes classical education so effective?

What makes classical education so effective?

The word “classical” refers to the structure and form of the education as well as the content of the studies. Modern education focuses on teaching subjects. Classical educators focus on teaching students the tools of learning in preparation for further study of subjects after high school.

Classical education is based on what is called the Trivium (Latin for “three roads”) and organizes learning around the maturing capacity of the child’s mind. No matter how your child learns, he or she goes through three phases:


The Grammar School includes K through 6th Grade, and priority during these years is given to reading, writing, grammar, and math. These years are a time of wonder and excitement as our teachers strive to develop in students a deep love of learning. Classical education teaches a child how to learn, and reading is particularly important because classical education places great weight on the written word. In addition, both classical education and the UMS approach emphasize the development of wisdom and virtuous character.

This stage focuses on the fundamental facts and rules of a subject along with discovering and ordering basic information on a subject. Because young students’ minds function like sponges with the ability to soak up a great deal of information, there is much emphasis on exposure to facts in this stage of learning. Teaching methods such as singing, chanting, and recitation are utilized when presenting facts appealing to children in this age range. Hands-on projects and manipulatives are also utilized in the grammar stage to provide greater opportunities for discovery.


In the School of Logic, grades 7th and 8th, students will begin to connect the foundational facts and skills learned in the grammar stage and to discover relationships between them. As students move beyond the basic skills of reading, writing, math, history, and science, they have a framework to allow them to think critically and look for patterns and relationships in the areas of study. In addition, both classical education and the UMS approach emphasize the development of wisdom and virtuous character.

The logic stage builds upon the grammar stage by going beyond basic information (who, what, when, where) to seeking to answer the “why” of a subject. During adolescence, a student’s capacity for abstract thought grows tremendously. They naturally tend to question information at this time in their development; therefore, students in this stage are taught to analyze, reason, question, evaluate, and critique in order to gain understanding. Logic, the art of reasoning and arguing correctly, is also taught during the logic stage.


Finally, the emphasis during the high school years shifts toward honing rhetorical skills, including writing. This shift prepares students to write college-level theses, utilizing their grasp of proper grammar as well their ability to think logically and critically. There is no greater task for education than to teach students how to learn. The influence of progressive teaching methods and the oversimplification of textbooks make it difficult for students to acquire the mental discipline that traditional instruction methods once cultivated. The classical method develops independent learning skills on the foundation of language, logic, and tangible fact. The classical difference is clear when students are taken beyond conventionally taught subjects and asked to apply their knowledge through logic and clear expression.

In 1947, Dorothy Sayers, a pioneer in the return to classical education, observed, although we often succeed in teaching our pupils subjects, we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think. Beyond subject matter, classical education develops those skills that are essential in higher education and throughout life — independent scholarship, critical thinking, logical analysis, and a love for learning.

For the sole end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.
(Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning)