What is Classical Education?

What is Classical Education?

What is Classical Education?


In the ever-evolving landscape of education, one approach has withstood the test of time and continues to inspire a love for learning: Classical Education. Rooted in ancient traditions and guided by the principles of the trivium and quadrivium, classical education fosters intellectual rigor, character development, and a deep appreciation for knowledge. In this article, we embark on a journey to uncover the fundamental aspects of classical education and explore why this timeless method continues to captivate educators and learners alike. 

The Foundations: Trivium and Quadrivium 

The trivium and quadrivium serve as the bedrock of classical education, providing a structured framework for intellectual development. 

Trivium: The Three Stages 

The term “trivium” refers to the three foundational arts of classical education that were traditionally taught in medieval universities and earlier educational systems. The trivium consists of three stages of learning, each emphasizing different cognitive skills and subjects. The trivium forms the initial and essential component of the seven liberal arts, which also include the quadrivium.  

  • Grammar Stage: This early phase focuses on foundational knowledge and memorization. Children absorb information like sponges, acquiring language skills and basic facts that serve as building blocks for future learning.
  • Logic Stage: Transitioning into critical thinking, the logic stage encourages students to analyze information, question assumptions, and develop sound reasoning skills.
  • Rhetoric Stage: As students enter their teenage years, the emphasis shifts to effective communication. The rhetoric stage equips learners to express their ideas persuasively, fostering independence and preparing them for higher-level studies. 

Quadrivium: The Four Arts 

The term “quadrivium” refers to the four mathematical arts that constituted the advanced stages of the seven liberal arts in classical education. Like the trivium, the quadrivium was a key component of medieval and classical educational systems, emphasizing disciplines that were considered essential for a well-rounded education. The quadrivium followed the trivium in the sequence of studies. 

  • Arithmetic and Geometry: The study of numbers and their relationships, combined with geometric principles, lays the foundation for mathematical understanding and problem-solving.
  • Music and Astronomy: Beyond artistic expression, music and astronomy broaden perspectives and contribute to a holistic education, connecting the arts and sciences. 

 Core Subjects in Classical Education 

Classical education places a strong emphasis on core subjects, weaving a tapestry of knowledge across disciplines. It is an educational philosophy and approach that emphasizes the study of classical languages, literature, history, mathematics, and science. The focus on these core subjects aims to provide students with a well-rounded and rigorous education that emphasizes intellectual and moral development. It is rooted in the traditions of ancient Greece and Rome and has been influential throughout the history of education.  

 Language Arts 

  • Literature and Language: Classical literature forms the cornerstone, instilling a love for timeless works. Mastery of language promotes effective communication.
  • Grammar and Writing: Building on the grammar stage, students refine their writing skills, emphasizing proper grammar and syntax.
  • Reading and Comprehension: Developing critical reading skills enables students to analyze and interpret diverse texts. 


  • Foundational Concepts: Arithmetic paves the way for a deep understanding of mathematical principles, fostering a logical and analytical mindset.
  • Problem-Solving: Mathematics is not just about numbers; it’s a tool for critical thinking and problem-solving in various real-world contexts.
  • Integration: The interdisciplinary nature of classical education ensures that mathematical concepts intertwine with other subjects. 


  • Scientific Inquiry: Hands-on exploration and experimentation instill a sense of curiosity and discovery.
  • Natural Sciences: Understanding biology, physics, and chemistry contributes to a comprehensive understanding of the natural world.
  • Philosophy and Ethics: The study of philosophy and ethics in the sciences reinforces the importance of ethical considerations in scientific pursuits. 

Implementation of Classical Education 

 The success of classical education lies in thoughtful implementation strategies. 

Curriculum Design 

  • Selecting Resources: Choosing quality curriculum materials that balance tradition with relevance.
  • Integrated Subjects: Creating cohesion among various subjects, fostering a holistic understanding of knowledge. Adaptations for
  • Learning Styles: Recognizing and accommodating diverse learning styles ensures inclusivity and effectiveness. 

Teaching Methods 

  • The Role of the Teacher: Evolving from a lecturer to a guide and mentor, using the Socratic method to encourage critical thinking.
  • Encouraging Independent Thought: Fostering curiosity and independent inquiry, preparing students for a lifelong love of learning.
  • Classical Languages: Emphasizing the importance of Latin and Greek, integrating language study into broader subject matter. 


Benefits of Classical Education 

 Classical education yields multifaceted benefits for intellectual, character, and long-term development. 

Intellectual Development 

  • Critical Thinking Skills: The trivium and quadrivium cultivate analytical reasoning and problem-solving abilities.
  • Language Proficiency: Mastery of grammar and syntax results in effective written and oral communication.
  • Well-Rounded Education: Exposure to a broad range of subjects develops a comprehensive knowledge base. 

 Character Formation 

  • Emphasis on Virtues: Classical education instills virtues and fosters moral character and integrity.
  • Love for Learning: Cultivating a lifelong passion for knowledge through intrinsic motivation and curiosity.
  • Holistic Development: Balancing intellectual, emotional, and social growth for well-rounded individuals. 

 Long-Term Success 

  • Preparation for Higher Education: Classical education equips students for success in college and beyond.
  • Career Readiness: Critical skills acquired through classical education prove valuable in the modern workforce.
  • Lifelong Learning: Instilling a sustained interest in continuous education for personal and professional growth. 


In conclusion, classical education, with its roots in ancient wisdom, continues to be a beacon of intellectual and moral development. The trivium and quadrivium, along with a robust focus on core subjects, contribute to a well-rounded education. Despite criticisms and challenges, the benefits of classical education in shaping critical thinkers, fostering virtues, and preparing individuals for lifelong success are undeniable. As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of education, the timeless principles of classical education remain a steadfast guide, offering a holistic and enduring approach to learning. 

The Classical Education Difference

The Classical Education Difference

The Classical Education Difference

By: Mr. Cutrer

We often talk about the differences between classical education and the current public education routine. For a practical demonstration, let’s talk specifics about how a classical education in first grade differs from the public system by looking at how we incorporate daily science instruction, utilize Singapore Mathematics, and teach explicit phonics.

Daily Science Exploration

One notable difference in a classical first-grade education is the commitment to daily science instruction. While public education systems may schedule science classes only a few times a week, classical education integrates science into the daily curriculum. This approach aims to cultivate curiosity and a love for discovery from an early age, emphasizing hands-on experiments and observation. By fostering a daily engagement with science, students develop critical thinking skills and a natural inclination towards inquiry-based learning.

Singapore Mathematics

We embrace Singapore Mathematics, a method known for its emphasis on problem-solving and conceptual understanding. Unlike the Common Core approach, Singapore Math encourages a deep understanding of mathematical concepts through a progression of visual, concrete, and then abstract learning. Additionally, Singapore Mathematics focuses on solving a variety of problems, fostering critical thinking and analytical skills. This approach not only helps students grasp mathematical concepts but also teaches them how to apply these concepts to real-world situations.

Explicit Phonics and Grammar

Classical education also places a strong emphasis on language skills, particularly through explicit phonics instruction. Instead of relying on sight words, which can limit a child’s ability to decode new words, classical first-grade education focuses on teaching the building blocks of language. This includes breaking down words into phonemes, understanding the rules of spelling and grammar, and fostering a strong vocabulary. By providing a solid linguistic foundation, students are better equipped to become proficient readers and writers.

Choosing the right educational path is a pivotal decision that shapes your children’s academic journeys. A classical education focuses on building a strong foundation in core subjects. By prioritizing daily scientific exploration, conceptual understanding in mathematics, and explicit language instruction, classical education aims to instill a lifelong love for learning and equip students with the skills needed to navigate an ever-changing world.

Great Books: Pillars of Classical Education

Great Books: Pillars of Classical Education

Great Books: Pillars of Classical Education

…haec studia adulescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.

These studies sustain youth and entertain old age, they enhance prosperity, and offer a refuge and solace in adversity, they delight us when we are at home without hindering us in the wider world, and are with us at night, when we travel and when we visit the countryside.

-Cicero, Pro Archia

By: Mr. Cutrer

At the heart of classical education lies great books – a collection of timeless literary works that have shaped human thought and culture for centuries. These works, often referred to as the “canon,” include classics like Homer’s Iliad, Shakespeare’s plays, and Dumas’ Three Musketeers. Studying these texts allows students to engage with the most profound ideas and the most influential voices in human history. Cicero’s insight into the transformative power of literature is as relevant today as it was in ancient Rome.

Great books serve as a rich tapestry of knowledge, touching on philosophy, history, science, and the arts. Students grapple with complex ideas and ethical dilemmas, cultivating critical thinking, empathy, and an appreciation for the diversity of human experiences. These books foster a deep understanding of the human condition and teach valuable lessons about virtue, morality, and the pursuit of wisdom.

Characters embody a range of virtues and vices. Whether it’s the anger of Achilles in The Iliad or the wisdom of Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy, these characters serve as archetypes that readers can learn from. Additionally, by immersing themselves in these narratives, readers are exposed to the consequences of different choices, allowing them to reflect on the principles that guide ethical decision-making. Witnessing characters grapple with their own moral quandaries encourages readers to contemplate and refine their own values.

Furthermore, Optima Classical Academy teaches the great books alongside contemporary history to help students contextualize what events are influencing literature and what prominent ideas are influencing history. As C.S. Lewis notes, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.” When students study Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria, they read the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Code of Hammurabi. They read Shakespeare alongside their study of Jacobethan history. The zeitgeist of the age is opened up to them, deepening their understanding and appreciation of history and literature.

Classical education nurtures the minds and characters of students through these works, equipping them with the tools to become critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and virtuous individuals. Great books, woven into the fabric of classical education, serve as guides on this transformative journey. As students engage with the

timeless wisdom encapsulated in these literary treasures alongside the history that produced them, they not only grapple with profound ideas but also absorb the values and virtues that have shaped human civilization.