A Classical Education Model

At the center of Apex’s education model lies the premise that humans, especially children are naturally curious, but not naturally good thinkers. That means there needs to be a purposeful and deliberate effort to train the mind to think well. This is why we have chosen a classical education model.

The phrase “classical” is most often associated with the Greek and Roman civilizations (600 BCE to 476 CE), but should not be constrained to such a narrow definition. The word is also used to describe things that are defining, extraordinary, enduring and foundational. There is a reason why the classical philosophy was the predominant approach to public and private education for over a thousand years.

Apex philosophy understands the word “classical” to carry a combination of both meanings; a foundational, enduring and defining approach to education, rooted in the traditions of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.

While there was a variety of within the curriculum of both the Greeks and Romans, some consistent themes and practices emerged, most notably the deliberate emphasis on the study of grammar, literature, logic and rhetoric. During the Middle Ages (500-1460 CE) the subjects and approaches of the Greeks and Romans were analyzed and put in a systematic form. From this emerged the curriculum of the trivium (which means “three ways”) containing the subjects of grammar, logic and rhetoric. With regard to the trivium, grammar (along with logic and rhetoric) is understood as a method of addressing subjects and their content. While there are many aspects of classical education worthy of deeper explanation, for the purpose of this brief overview we will focus on the trivium.

Apex’s educational framework utilizes the trivium as a way of gaining insight into the learning process.  Initially students engage and master the basic facts (the grammar) of a given subject.  Once this grammatical foundation is established and the capacity for more abstract thinking begins to emerge, students use this core knowledge to learn to make comparisons and distinctions (logic).  Finally, students are then challenged to develop their skills in communication, persuasion and the substantiation of perspectives (rhetoric). The end goal is that students are prepared to research given topics/issues, critically analyze what they learn, draw a substantiated conclusion, then articulate those views and positions.

The trivium also suggests phases through which a child’s mind may develop and the methodologies most conducive to each phase. With regard to the primary grades, almost all authorities agree (and our own experience as parents/guardians confirm) that children have an amazing capacity to absorb facts and figures (grammar), so why not offer a curriculum that capitalizes on this reality? This the reason Apex has chosen the content-rich Core Knowledge Scope and Sequence as our primary curriculum. To further make the point, high school students are far from being capable and persuasive in a given subject (rhetoric) and may need to acquire some significant basic facts and figures (grammar) that are lacking. At the same time, few would disagree that high school students have a greater capacity and desire to think more abstractly and logically than primary grade children. So, within the framework of the trivium, the younger the child, the more focus placed on grammatical elements; the older the child, the more focus placed on logical and rhetorical elements.

The following chart clarifies the stages and some conducive, teaching methodologies for each stage of student development:

 The Trivium and general stages of child development

The Trivium and general stages of child development

The acquisition and expansion of a child’s knowledge base, logical thinking and analysis, and fluency and persuasiveness all rest within the classical framework.

In general terms, each stage of the trivium embodies the following general emphases:

●       Stage 1: Grammar (K-6th grade)

“Training the mind” focuses on acquiring and expanding the student’s knowledge base.  This stage demands a rigorous and content rich curriculum. To meet this requirement, the Core Knowledge Curriculum has been selected. A broad knowledge base is also essential for reading and comprehension. For example, this sentence from a Los Angeles Times news artile (July, 2010) assumes that the reader has already acquired a relevant knowledge base: “The government threw money at corporations, like beans out a window hoping they’d discover the ‘golden egg.’” This sentence assumes the reader has preexisting knowledge about the Bible story of David and Goliath and the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Reading with understanding is as much about the skill of decoding and phonics as it is about a knowledge base and expanding vocabulary.  Many students are perceived as being illiterate when it fact it is actually a deficit of knowledge and vocabulary.

●       Stage 2: Logic (4th – 7th grades)

The second stage utilizes the broad base of knowledge acquired in the first stage, to prompt logical thinking and analysis, finding distinctions and comparisons across subject matter.  The success of this stage is based on students having an expanding vocabulary and a robust knowledge base with which to apply logic, analysis, critical thinking, problem solving, etc...

●       Stage 3: Rhetoric (6th grade and higher)

The final stage focuses on fluency and persuasiveness, when a learner is so comfortable with subject matter that they appear “fluent,” as they would with a language. At this stage students should be able to reason, influence, persuade and defend logical thought and positions.  At Apex, our 8th grade students will have a final “Exit Project” that will draw on the first two stages and, in a formal way introduce them to the final phase, presenting on a project to a panel that will listen, question and challenge. Apex graduates will have the ability to understand, gain access to and influence the culture in which they live as responsible, well-thinking citizens.  They will be prepared to engage their high school and, if they so choose, their university pursuits successfully.

[1] Some of the ideas in this section were gleaned from Dr. Christopher A. Perrin in his booklet entitled An Introduction to Classical Education, Classical Academic Press, 2004.