Myths About Classical Education

As thousands of parents adopt Classical education, many more are left with questions. Unfamiliarity with the classical method seems to have given rise to some common myths. While you may find some truth in each myth, we believe your concerns about classical education will begin to fade as your knowledge increases. In fact, you may be surprised by the same enthusiasm that has motivated thousands of parents to return to education that works.

Classical Education is too reliant on memorization and an outdated style of teaching.

Sometime around the late 1980s and early 1990s, memorization in the classroom became a bad thing. Instead, students were expected to figure out just why and how three times five equals fifteen. It’s no coincidence that around this same time, students’ success in higher levels of math began to decline. Because students were no longer required to memorize the most basic math facts, they were still focusing on what three times five produces when they were meant to be focusing on solving longer equations, dividing fractions, or figuring out the area of a triangle.

Classical students do not memorize simply to memorize – though the memorization of a poem certainly helps exercise the brain. Rather, they memorize the necessary facts, or building blocks, that will help them excel later in their academic career: simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts; major geographical capitals; Latin vocabulary, conjugations, and declensions, etc.

Speaking of Latin, it is a dead language.

If you want to rile up an advocate of classical education, spout the common misconception that Latin is not worth learning because it’s a “dead language” (But is it? A law student might disagree). Of course, everyone learning and teaching Latin knows very well that one will never travel anywhere and speak Latin to the local people. But as they’ll be quick to tell you: that simply isn’t the point.

Learning Latin teaches the brain to think and organize unlike any other subject is able to do. Students, who are often as young as third grade when they begin, must memorize Latin nouns and verbs, and remember the six different endings of each. Not to mention, they must decide which of those endings to use based on whether the word is acting as a direct or indirect object, the subject, the verb, or something else altogether. Studies have shown that students who learn Latin outperform their non-Latin peers in everything from English grammar to science class. Latin is not only the root of all romance languages, but it is also the root of modern vocational languages such as technology, medicine, etc… Mark Zuckerberg learned Latin as a child, something he credits for his later success as a web developer. Latin is successful in bridging the gap for English Language Learners as well.

Not enough Science is taught.

In fact, true Classical Education places a very strong emphasis on the sciences. At one classical school in Louisville, Kentucky, fourth-graders study insects, 5th graders birds and the history of medicine, and 6th graders trees and flowers. When these same students enter upper school, they take the more expected classes such as biology, chemistry, and physics. What sets these students apart from their non-classical peers, however, is that they’ve already been taught a respect for the natural sciences, which is consistent with Classical Education’s pursuit of “the good, the true, and the beautiful.”

Students should be immersed in technology as we live in a modern world.

Whether they go to a classical school or a state-of-the-art public school, students are already immersed in technology. There are very few children in the United States who do not have access to computers, the internet, television, and a variety of other technological toys at home. If students are immersed in technology both at school and at home, when do they learn to hold a pencil — a skill just as much about fine motor skills as it is about modern-day communication? Putting aside the fact that studies have proven children don’t learn as well from a computer screen, it is more important than ever that parents and educators realize that technology is constantly changing. What is brand new when a student begins Kindergarten is old and outdated by the time they progress to middle school. On the other hand, handwriting, arithmetic, geographical awareness, and public speaking skills are timeless. Classical Education simply emphasizes those timeless elements of education and leaves the rapidly changing technology up to life at home.

Classical Education was fine back then, but we need modern education in the modern world.

Classical education teaches students facts, provides them with logical tools to use those facts, and perfects the student’s ability to relate those facts to others. This fundamental skill–set is more valuable today than it has ever been. The process of teaching students to think extends far beyond filling their heads with knowledge. Modern education, to varying degrees, has succeeded in teaching some facts and skills. Classical education helps students draw original, creative, and accurate conclusions from facts and then formulate those conclusions into logical and persuasive arguments.

Modern subjects based in science and technology are taught in classical schools, through classical methods. Parents who are exposed to classical education recognize that its “back to the basics” approach contrasts with the disorganization and distractions of modern education. Is the classical method applicable in a modern, technological age? The technology we have today was invented, in large part, by the classically educated. Man inhabited the earth for thousands of years without developing technology until the last two hundred years. It is no coincidence that the groundwork for these achievements was laid within the last 400 years when classical education was at its height. Classical education teaches children the timeless skills of thinking, reasoning, logic, and expression. Our subject matter is as up-to-date as that found in any modern school. We simply add a depth and dimension through this time-tested method, which is unseen in most modern schools.

My child is not intelligent enough to attend a classical school.

Students at ICA will vary in intelligence from “exceptionally intelligent” to “below grade level.” Many parents assume that classical education is only accessible to “gifted” children. In fact, all children benefit greatly from the classical method. Until this century, there was no substantial alternative. If you were educated in Western society prior to 1850 you were classically educated, regardless of your level of intelligence.

As is usually the case, myths start from a spark of reality. Many parents will observe the classroom and curriculum of ICA and assume the children are abnormally bright. In reality, classical education challenges children and is uniquely able to leverage their natural abilities during different stages of childhood. In short, we will take ordinary children and deliver extraordinary results by employing proven methods tested for centuries. However, classical education was the norm 100 years ago. Almost all of the world’s great authors, scientists, statesmen, and politicians were classically educated.

Parents are rightfully skeptical of anything that differs so boldly from the norm. This myth usually stems from the fact that classical education is very different from today’s conventional education. We challenge you to make the right decision based on your own ideas and the principles you want your child taught around.

Classical education is too extreme.

Conventional education has taken an experimental approach to educating our children over the past four decades. This constant state of change in education creates an environment where anything “traditional” seems extreme. Classical education provides a basic structure upon which we can build effective, successful students. We are not advocating an experiment. Rather, we are seeking a return to a system that was proven effective for over 1,000 years.

Classical education is unnecessarily difficult.

On the contrary, children enjoy learning. They are wired for it. Assuming that a child will not be able to succeed in a challenging environment is tempting, but simply untrue. A common assumption is that demanding curriculum results in unhappy children. As adults, learning new things can be uncomfortable. However, most children are fascinated by learning new things. The excitement of students learning Latin beams as they become able to converse with one another in a language that most adults do not understand. The rich and complex texture of classical literature is strangely amplified by youth. Science and the history of Western Civilization come alive for those who hunger to know about their world.

The spark of truth in the last myth may lie in student grading at ICA and our philosophy on grading. As public school GPA’s continue to edge upward (even though our national standardized test scores related to other countries continue to be disappointing), parents of students in classical schools find that “C” truly means their child is doing average work in a particular subject. It is important that grading standards be upheld and that students earn their marks. This can create some frustration among students who are accustomed to achieving “easy A’s” in other schools.

(Adapted from Great Value Colleges & Parnassus Preparatory School)

Have a safe and fun Summer!
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