Over the next few months, I want to use this column to introduce you to some of the growing trends in the home-school community. My first topic is the classical Christian movement. These schools are springing up around the country at an astonishing rate, but what about home schoolers? Can we apply this educational model in our homes? No one knows better than Susan Wise Bauer, home-school graduate, college professor and author of The Well-Trained Mind.

This week, I've asked Susan to define this model for us.

Could you please define classical Christian education for our readers?

Classical doesn't mean a return to the content taught in Greek and Roman schools. If it did, a classical education would mean Latin and Greek language instruction, the reading of Latin and Greek literature, and the study of mathematics. I think this would strike most parents as a partial education!

Rather, classical refers to a pattern of training the mind first used in medieval education, and followed in European and even in American schools until relatively recently. Classical education proposes that learning take place in three stages. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.

An Overview of the Trivium

The first years of schooling are called the "grammar stage" -- not because you spend four years doing English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid. In the elementary school years (what we commonly think of as grades one through four) the mind is ready to absorb information, but not necessarily to criticize or analyze it. Children at this age actually find memorization fun, but many will be frustrated by curricula that force them to draw conclusions from evidence. So during this period, education focuses on the learning of facts: rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics. Classical education submerges the child in fascinating information.

By fifth grade, a child's mind begins to think more analytically. Middle-school students are less interested in finding out facts than in asking "Why?" The second phase of the classical education, the "Logic Stage," is a time when the child begins to pay attention to cause and effect. A student is ready for the Logic Stage when the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature. During these years, the student begins algebra and the study of logic, and begins to apply logic to all academic subjects. The logic of writing, for example, includes paragraph construction and learning to support a thesis; the logic of reading involves the criticism and analysis of texts, not simple absorption of information; the logic of history demands that the student find out why the War of 1812 was fought, rather than simply reading its story; the logic of science requires that the child learn the scientific method.

The final phase of a classical education, the "Rhetoric Stage," builds on the first two. At this point, the high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in middle school to the foundational information learned in the early grades and expresses his conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant language. Students also begin to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts them; these are the years for art camps, college courses, foreign travel, apprenticeships, and other forms of specialized training.

But a classical education is more than simply a pattern of learning. Classical education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television). Language-learning and image-learning require very different habits of thought. Language requires the mind to work harder; in reading, the brain is forced to translate a symbol (words on the page) into a concept. Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive. In front of a video screen, the brain can "sit back" and relax; faced with the written page, the mind is required to roll its sleeves up and get back to work.

The Focus Is History