The Basics of Classical Education
- Mike Farris, Esq. President of Patrick Henry College
- 2001 20 Oct
I recently spoke with Susan Wise Bauer, home-schooling mother of three and professor of American literature at the College of William and Mary in Virginia about her book, "The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home," on Home School Heartbeat. This is Part 2 of that interview.
Susan, can you please explain to our listeners the three-part pattern of classical education and how it ties in with the various stages of learning and development that all children go through.
Susan Wise Bauer:
Sure. The first stage of classical education is one that you pursue during the elementary school years. It's called the Grammar Stage, because during this you're building a foundation of knowledge. You give the children plenty of information so that they can absorb it, but you don't demand that they analyze it, because most children's minds are not mature enough for critical thinking. That comes during the second stage, the Logic Stage, when you start to encourage the child to think critically -- to start looking at cause and effect. This [takes place] during about grades 5-8. And then, finally, during the Rhetoric Stage of classical education, which are your high school years, you encourage your student, who has his or her own opinions about what he or she is studying, to express those opinions very persuasively and eloquently.
What's the value of this kind of systematic approach to education?
Well, I think it has two values. One is that, above all, you are teaching the student a pattern which he will use whenever he encounters a new subject: select information about it, analyze that information, and then draw his own conclusion. Secondly, this sort of study allows the student to join what Mortimer Adler calls "the great conversation." That is ongoing conversation of great minds and great ideas down through the ages.
Susan, you've organized your book around these three stages. What information do you include to help make a classical education realistically possible at home?
Susan Wise Bauer:
Well, the first thing that we do is explain the philosophy of each stage. We say, during the grammar stage (elementary years), don't force children to do a lot of critical thinking if it frustrates them. Just enjoy exploring. We say, during the logic period children begin to ask a lot of questions, to question you; this is normal. Here's how you deal with it. During the rhetoric stage, it's time for them to start expressing their own opinion. So we explain why you teach the way you do.
Then, for each subject at each stage, we tell you what you should cover -- what history information, what science subjects, what writing skills, what grammar skills. But then we don't just leave it at that; we tell you how to teach it. We say, here's how you teach outlining; here's how you teach reading comprehension; here's how you do history with real books; here's how you do experiment-centered science. And then, we suggest specific books and specific curricula to help you do it. Say, you know, you take this book; do this many pages per day. It really gives parents a jumping off point so that they can get into classical education and not feel overwhelmed and lost.
Susan, during the grammar stage you suggest the use of narration as an aid to the study of history. Can you explain this method to our listeners?
Sure! Narration is a wonderful tool. What you do is you read something with the child -- and this is for all subjects: reading, science, history -- you read something together, and then you ask the child just to tell you what he read. What was most important about it? What was most interesting? What happened? And what this does is, first of all, replaces testing in the early grades, because it allows the child to demonstrate what he has learned. And secondly, it begins to teach the child to comprehend the organized facts, and then to express them. And it's just a wonderful tool for developing written expression later on.
Susan, I notice that you suggest the use of special notebooks for each subject and for all the grade levels. Why do you incorporate this approach into your program?
Well, we feel that it's important for the students to be able to look at what they've accomplished. If students collect information in notebooks, starting in first grade and going all the way through twelfth grade, they're given a great feeling of accomplishment when they look back and see how far they've progressed.
Susan, I want to thank you very much for being with us this week. If you'd like to get a copy of Susan's book, or see other material about classical education, please visit her Web site, www.WellTrainedMind.com.