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Classical Education

In a tradition spanning more than two thousand years, Classical Education is a form of learning grounded in the belief that all knowledge is interrelated and that learning follows the natural process of human growth and development.

The two foundations of the classical model of learning are these:

  1. Learning is language-focused, accomplished through written and spoken word.
  2. Classical learning is taught in a three-part pattern that directly correlates to the natural cognitive stages of development in children as they grow and mature toward adulthood. The ancient Greeks called these stages grammar, dialectic (logic), and rhetoric. This classical pattern is called the trivium in Latin, meaning “the place where three roads meet” and it is how we teach and learn at SHPA.

The Three Stages of Classical Education

The Grammar Stage (mastering facts) refers to the earliest stages in children’s cognitive development where they learn and recall information largely through rote memorization, repetition, drill, patterns and practice, such as facts, songs, rhymes, and chants. These patterns then become the alphabet, then word identification, then reading, vocabulary, and cognition. In elementary school, a concentration is placed on learning these fundamentals concretely. The grammar stage provides the first stepping stones of learning in elementary school that bridge the way toward more abstract learning.

Elementary students at Seven Hills Preparatory Academy are predominately in this grammar stage for the entirety of their time with us. As students mature and grasp more abstract concepts, logic is introduced in the latter part of the Fifth Grade.

The Logic or Dialectic Stage (building logical reasoning and critical thinking) is the reasoning stage of learning and lasts through middle school. It is this time where natural cognitive development shifts from the concrete (the things that are known) to the analytical (the things that are questioned). Adolescents naturally question everything. In school, it is given a structure and they learn the “art of argument,” debate, and forming their own opinions. Students in this logic stage of learning, and as teenagers in life, are not comfortable with merely reading about a subject, but seek to know more through questioning. What is the purpose? Why is that so? How does that work? This is also developmentally appropriate for teenagers. A critical component at this stage is our modeling for students how to appropriately question the ideas of others with respect and tolerance.

Middle School students at Seven Hills Preparatory Academy are predominately in this logic stage for the entirety of their time with us. Teaching and learning at this level are intentionally designed to develop reasoning and critical thinking skills and to promote personal academic accountability.

The Rhetoric Stage (articulate expression that combines logic and reasoning) begins in the high school years and continues into young adulthood. Here, cognitive development has reached maturity. In the rhetoric stage, students refine their knowledge through well-developed speech, vocabulary, dialogue, writing, and decorum. Students apply prior learning as they grasp the meaning of a subject and examine theory. They master core subjects, strengthen skills, and begin more advanced, college-level studies.

In conclusion, Classical Education is, above all, a systematic, rigorous pattern of study with two purposes. First, rigorous study develops virtue in the student. According to the philosopher, Aristotle, virtue is the ability to act in accordance to what one knows to be right. Second, systematic study in the Classical Education model also allows the student to join what Mortimer Adler calls the “the Great Conversation” — the ongoing dialogue of great minds and well educated people down through the ages. Elements of this great conversation are the content of our learning – our curriculum – at Seven Hills.

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