As a member of an inclusive homeschool co-op, I’m surrounded by lots of homeschooling families with multiple approaches to schooling. I think there is often confusion and misunderstanding about what exactly certain methods of homeschooling entail. For instance, I know some unschoolers are leery of any type of published curriculum. And I know other types of homeschoolers who are leery of any kind of child-led learning. To dispel some of the mystery and confusion, we need to engage in more conversation with our fellow homeschoolers so that we can all recognize the merits of having more than one way of doing things. We have enough polarization with politics in the world; we don’t need more of it in home education. This article is the result of a missed opportunity, in which I wished I had explained that using published curriculum is only a means to pursuing a method.
So – is classical education about curriculum? Consider the definition of curriculum in Webster’s New World Dictionary: “a fixed series of studies required, as in college, for graduation . . .” If we take the part of the definition that says “a fixed series of studies”, then yes, classical education is about curriculum. That curriculum is the trivium – the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. There is also the quadrivium, which in ancient Greece meant the study of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy that followed the trivium.
That’s it, folks, in a nutshell. Now, you can find plenty of articles online that will further complicate matters, but the above is your bare bones definition of classical education. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric make up the core “curriculum,” followed by math and sciences. During the trivium stage, you study the construction and mechanics of language. You learn how to think logically. You learn how to express yourself in a clear and logical manner. You use history, literature, and art to accomplish all of these things.
Some folks will argue that you can’t have a classical education without studying Latin and/or Greek. While I find the study of Latin to be extremely useful for understanding English vocabulary and grammar, I wouldn’t go so far as to say you must be studying it to have a classical homeschool. Some folks will also argue that you can’t have a classical education without certain content, such as the Great Books. Here’s my 2¢ – the world has changed dramatically since Plato wrote The Republic. We have a lot more history, literature, art, and scientific information to include in our educations. I believe the definition of classical education has to expand to include emphasis on things that are of importance to us in our modern day society, as well as covering the canon of work that has maintained its relevance over hundreds of years.
What about our homeschooling perception of the word “curriculum”? I don’t know about you, but I think of things like Saxon Math, Sonlight Cores, All About Spelling, and Story of the World when I hear the word curriculum. When someone asks me what curriculum I’m using, I’ll usually answer that we use a variety of different curricula. By that, I mean that we use a wide variety of published materials.
But classical education is not about curriculum in this latter sense of the word. I could use any different number of math books or grammar books or history books and produce the same results. I could use no “specifically published as curriculum” books and get the same results. Classical education is not about curriculum. It’s using the information we have from the past to learn the skills we need to understand humanity. This can be accomplished by following the methods of classical education, such as copy work, dictation, and Socratic questioning. For centuries students were taught in these methods using nothing but the few published works available to them.
While a particular curriculum may not be necessary for a classical education, there are certainly several curricula that can help you accomplish your goals. Parents are not necessarily trained in the teaching of these methods. Finding a curriculum that guides and directs you through the classical method is quite handy. I’m a huge fan of many products published by the various Classical homeschooling companies and others. Classical education is a time-tested method of producing logically-thinking adults, and if you find that a certain publisher helps you produce those logically-thinking adults that you can launch into the world, be thankful. That is the goal.
Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past 4.5 years, after their brief stint in the local public school. Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment. Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio. Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature. She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables. You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.