Is not the great defect of our education today… that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils subjects, we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning. – Dorothy Sayers
The Classical (Trivium-based) Approach
When we say “classical education,” we mean an educational approach rooted in the medieval concept of the Trivium (Latin for “three ways”). Each element of the Trivium–grammar, logic, and rhetoric–is viewed not just as a subject but as a tool for learning. A student who has mastered the tools will be able to think and learn for themselves and thus be able to master any subject they approach.
Dorothy Sayers, a Christian writer and thinker who was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis, explained the Trivium in her essay, The Lost Tools of Learning. She writes that children grow naturally through three stages: the “poll-parrot,” “pert” and “poetic.” Each stage corresponds to the three elements of the Trivium, Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric so children benefit from the best tools at just the right time.
The elementary years (Sayers’s “poll-parrot” stage) correspond to the Grammar stage of the Trivium. In the Grammar stage, students take in the core knowledge of each subject by memorizing the basic facts and fundamental rules related to that subject. In the middle school years (the “pert” stage), children grow into the Logic or Dialectic stage. At this age they are beginning to think abstractly and are able to relate and understand all the facts they have previously accumulated. They are therefore taught sound reasoning and critical thinking skills. The third stage of the Trivium is the Rhetoric stage (the “poetic” stage), which corresponds to high school. This is the age when young people become more concerned about their appearance and how they express themselves. So, correspondingly, students in this stage are taught how to express themselves and communicate their ideas in an effective and eloquent manner, learning to be articulate, persuasive and creative in their written and oral communication.
A classical education focuses on the mastery of language skills: reading, writing, and speaking well. We promote the historically-proven method of reading instruction, namely phonics. Heavy emphasis is placed on formal spelling and grammar instruction, good penmanship, proper writing form, and intensive reading with the goal of making students masters of language. The study of Latin is an integral part of the student’s development of language skills.
Students read extensive amounts of quality literature. As soon as children can read they are immersed in the Great Books. At the Logic and Rhetoric stages they read and analyze these books from a Christian perspective and learn to engage the marketplace of ideas with a critically-thinking Christian mind.
The written and spoken word is emphasized as opposed to images (pictures, television, and video). While image-based methods may be employed as they are necessary, language-learning is our focus, requiring the mind to work actively instead of passively. Students are encouraged to develop a passion for reading and life-long learning.
Centrality of History
History is the organizing framework for the classical curriculum. It ties together the subjects of literature, art, music, and science in a chronological manner. At Oak Hill, students are taught traditional history, the formal study of events, nations, and individuals in the flow of God’s providence (as opposed to social studies). History is taught chronologically and integrated with other disciplines whenever possible (e.g. medieval literature, art and music are taught while students study medieval history).
Although students study the history, literature, and cultures of many civilizations, particular attention is given to the culture and heritage of the West. As C.S. Lewis has written, “The educated man habitually, almost without noticing it, sees the present as something that grows out of a long perspective of centuries.” By teaching students the history and literature of the Western civilization that has shaped them, they will be able to see and understand themselves and their own culture more clearly.