What is Classical Education?

Classical education is the time-tested approach to education that prevailed in Western Civilization throughout history until the 20th Century, and stands in sharp contrast to many of the modern models employed in schools today. Grounded in methods first developed by the Greeks and Romans, classical education is a proven system of teaching that structures learning in accordance with stages of child development. Curriculum is taught in a three-stage system known as The Trivium with each stage utilizing a master tool that guides the way subjects are taught and learned. The Trivium’s three stages are commonly referred to as grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Classical education experts explain that the chief goal in each stage is to master the corresponding learning tool — for in mastering the tool, the content areas will be mastered as well. Put simply, classical methods teach students “how” to learn.

The Grammar Stage (Grades K-5) involves learning through the memorization of facts, concepts, vocabulary, and grammar rules, often through songs, chants, and jingles. The goal is to equip students with the building blocks of core subjects while their minds are most receptive to memorization and observation. Memorization tools are used across subject areas such as history, science, Latin, math, grammar, and reading.

The Logic Stage (Grades 6-8) takes the mastered information from the Grammar Stage and brings it into ordered relationships. Students learn to apply the tool of logic to assess the validity of theories and arguments. At an age when students are beginning to establish their own identities, they learn to view information critically with a more discerning mind. Subjects are taught dialectically — students will be discussing and debating concepts and theories of math, science, literature, and history.

The Rhetoric Stage (Grades 9-12). In the upper grades, students learn how to effectively communicate through the written and spoken word. Rhetoric students continue to apply the knowledge and critical thinking skills developed in the earlier stages through the tools of writing and oratory. They reflect on what they’re learning across the curriculum through persuasive essays, speeches, and presentations. The value of a classical education is made fully visible at this point, as students prepare for college equipped to think critically and effectively articulate what they know, what they believe, and why they believe it.

For more information on classical Christian education, take a look at these resources:


  • Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Doug Wilson
  • The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education by Leigh Bortins

Audio (MP3)

  • Education, Wisdom, and Eloquence from Mars Hill Audio (12MB file). An interview with Robert Littlejohn, co-author of the book Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning, on how education should encourage wisdom and eloquence in students, and why these are Christian virtues. (Posted with permission from Mars Hill Audio)