What Is Classical Education?


What Is Classical Education?

What Are the Seven Liberal Arts?

The Seven Liberal Arts include the three arts of language (trivium) and the four arts of mathematics (quadrivium). “Liberal” derives from the Latin word for “free,” as these “arts of freedom” were designed so free people could think about great ideas for the noble service of others. In contrast, the “servile” arts, an education for slaves, prepare for menial labor. The liberal arts enable an individual to live, to study, to think, and to serve others in any vocation.

The Arts of Language: The Trivium (3)

Grammar — all that is foundational in language

Grammar includes learning letters, reading, and spelling; beautiful penmanship, crafting sentences and paragraphs; developing a rich vocabulary. Grammar is taught by imitation — copying excellent writing of others, reading and hearing good literature, and especially through the study of Latin.

The disciplined study of the ordered Latin grammar strengthens the student's mind, offers an appreciation of a great literary heritage, and enhances the knowledge of the student's own native grammar and vocabulary. For thousands of years, Greek has also assisted in teaching the arts of language and providing the foundation for reading classic literary works.

Logic — analysis of language

Analytical thinking, discernment, and argumentation comprise Logic. The student of Logic learns to identify false statements and illogical premises, whether in his own thinking or in the assertions of others. Logic helps to organize a student's mind and prepare a student for public discourse. Taught in the early years with simple cause and effect of consequences such as those found in Aesop's fables and in family life, formal Logic is taught as the student's mind matures.

Rhetoric — eloquence, beauty, and persuasion with language

Rhetoric enables the student to write and speak with eloquence. Ancient Roman orator Quintilian urged the modeling of excellent speech even with very young children (Institutio Oratoria, Book One). When parents and teachers read poetry aloud, they bring beautiful examples of language to their children. As the student masters foundational and analytical elements of language, lessons in formal Rhetoric become part of his classical education.

The Arts of Mathematics — The Quadrivium (4))

Sometimes neglected in today's applications of classical education, the Quadrivium is designed to strengthen the child's mind while cultivating in him an appreciation for the patterns and order of the world in which he lives. Through the Quadrivium, as with the Trivium, the teacher's purpose is to incline the child toward that which is significantly true, good, and beautiful.

This approach to the Mathematical Arts contrasts with the starkly utilitarian questions, If I will never use this in my daily life, why learn it? If I will not need this to 'get a job,' why study this at all? The Quadrivium teaches foundational content with a formative impact on the student himself. The Mathematical Arts — far more than isolated bits of knowledge — command a strong presence in the classical curriculum as follows:

Discrete quantity or number

Arithmetic — theory of number

Music Theory — application of the theory of number

Continuous quantity

Geometry — theory of space

Astronomy — application of the theory of space

What Is Catechesis?

...instruction for children and the simple folk. Therefore, in ancient times it was called in Greek catechism (i.e., instruction for children). It teaches what every Christian must know.

Therefore, we must have the young learn well and fluently the parts of the catechism or instruction for children, diligently exercising themselves in them, and keep them busy with these parts. (Luther, 1988, Preface)

Martin Luther's Small Catechism divides the teaching of the historic Christian faith into Six Chief Parts:

The Ten Commandments

The Apostles' Creed

The Lord's Prayer

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism


The Sacrament of the Altar

The Lutheran Doctrine of Vocation

Parents and teachers can find the task of teaching overwhelming. How can I do all of this? With classical education's emphasis on academic rigor and high levels of structure, teachers may grow weary; however, when we remember the important “why” of classical Lutheran education, the daily “how” can become less burdensome, and we find a growing number of excellent resources to support us in our task.

Parents and teachers can take heart. Remember that God Himself works through us, in spite of our weaknesses, to accomplish His good purposes in our children. Again, Dr. Veith:

God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other. . . .The ability to read God's Word is an inexpressibly precious blessing, but reading is an ability that did not spring fully formed in our young minds. It required the vocation of teachers. . . .By virtue of our creation, our purpose in life is to do good works, which God Himself 'prepared' for us to do. We are 'God's workmanship,' which means that God is at work in us to do the works He intends.

- (Veith, 2002, pp.14, 38)