The classical model of education could be compared to a large museum. You can see numerous rooms that are filled with exhibits, artifacts, and untold wonders about our past. Studying these items can then lead to new insights for the individual that encourages them to retain the information they’ve just learned.
The educational system emphasizes truth, goodness, and essentials like grammar, logic, and arithmetic. You would include items like music, geometry rhetoric, and astronomy into the curriculum as well. Using the classic education model also means that students would study Latin.
When examining the pros and cons of the classical education model and curriculum, it is evident immediately to see what it is such an effective approach. Children learn in three different stages regardless of their personal style in a method called “trivium.” The processes lead to a lifetime of learning where wisdom and knowledge come together harmoniously.
List of the Pros of the Classical Education Model and Curriculum
1. It encourages every student to engage with the learning process.
The classical education model reaches children in unique ways based on their physical development. Students in the K-6 grades learn more about grammar here because they find it easy to memorize rhymes, songs, and chants to retain information. Kids who can remember specific tunes can remember lessons for a lifetime. Moving into grades 7-9, the logic stage occurs because this time is when children typically challenge facts and the authority of others.
When the rhetoric stage occurs in grades 10-12, the classical education model encourages students to become independent thinkers. The emphasis shifts to their ability to study, practice, and communicate with others. This skill allows them to understand the art of effective writing and persuasive speaking.
2. This approach offers centuries of results to study.
The classical education model is as ancient as our recorded human history. Many of its core elements, including honesty, integrity, and courage work to encourage deeper thinking processes. The goal of this approach is to provide students more than an option to memorize algebraic formulas or remember specific dates from history. It is an educational system that works to explain the “why” component of learning.
Students who graduate from a classical educational curriculum are adept in numerous subjects. Math, science, reading, writing, the fine arts, and Latin are all part of their being. This combination of factors creates people who are thoughtful, gracious, and knowledgeable in their reasoning and logic.
3. Students receive a foundation of usable information.
Despite there being a lack of specialization in this curriculum, students who go through the classical education model have a foundation of usable information. They can take the lessons learned and apply them in a variety of ways. It is not unusual for kids to grow up being artists, musicians, or writers because of the heavy emphasis on logic, rhetoric, and grammar that you see in this system.
Some students might struggle to memorize facts, but kids with dyslexia or other learning disabilities can work on memorizing core information. When they do, then that data becomes an asset that is usable in other areas of life.
4. It passes down our knowledge to the next generation.
The first (and arguably most important) objective of a classical education is to pass along knowledge to the next generation. This process is how humans can preserve their traditions and culture. It’s a system of progressive education that focuses on the flaws of the past so that they can be corrected in the present or the future. Although some might argue that this system ignores the progress made by our forefathers, we get the chance to create a family tree that lets everyone feel connected to those who came before – or those that will come after.
5. The classical education curriculum is a broad-based system.
When there is excessive specialization in the educational system, then you create people who have knowledge and wisdom for one field only. If asked what they could do in other areas of life, these graduates would be largely ignorant of their new expectations. That’s why there is such an emphasis on retraining when layoffs occur or industries fold. The classical education model suggests that by offering a well-rounded curriculum from the start, it is possible for people to transition between opportunities with greater ease because their knowledge has less fragmentation.
It’s the difference between mastering principles or acquiring skills.
6. The classical education model affirms an overarching goal.
The center of the educational process must have a specific outcome in mind for the learning process to be beneficial to the student. This advantage gets to the heart of what makes schools like this unique. Even though there are debates and disagreements about how to implement this component of the curriculum, virtually every provider agrees with the idea that a child’s education is about human formation and transformation. Instead of trying to develop clones that turn into adults who lose their critical thinking processes, this approach sees the idea of making an informed choice as one of the most vital skills that anyone can develop.
7. There are opportunities for personalization.
The classical education model might focus on facts and figures, but there is still a lot of room for personalization. You will find many families taking this approach while reading books from C.S. Lewis, Douglas Bond, or J.R.R. Tolkien. Families can have conversations about politics, theology, and other topics because this approach encourages everyone to share ideas in a safe environment. When parents have a healthy, respectful debate when differences are present in their lives, then their children can see and apply the concepts learned so that they can do the same thing in their lives one day.
8. The classical education model requires more accountability.
You will not find students earning grades that they did not achieve simply because no child gets left behind. Students earn their education when this curriculum is the foundation of their learning. You must prove that you have the facts straight, language memorized, and debate ready before you get to proceed to the next lesson. If you’re unable to prove that you’ve retained the knowledge, then you stay put until you have the ability to create that outcome. This process is why many argue that the classical approach is the best one. There is no room for objectivity because everyone must pass the same set of standards to make progress.
9. It is an entertaining approach to learning.
Alex Ross and Brigit Katz offer a lighter advantage to consider when looking at the pros and cons of the classical education model and curriculum. “There’s a reason why so many movies and TV shows are based on events of the ancient world,” the pair writes. “The history of Greece and Rome can be very entertaining.”
When students engage with the materials they need to learn, then it is easier to retain the information needed for a successful outcome. There are some incredible stories from the past, including the times when Emperor Nero would force people to sit through musicals for so long that their only recourse was to pretend to be dead. By remembering who we are and where we’ve been, it is a lot easier to see where we need to go.
10. The goal of each subject is to foster the humanity of the students.
The classical education curriculum removes the factory approach. It attempts to show students the reasoning behind each action that we take. That process makes it easier to understand why specific reactions occur with our choices. Even though some students can struggle here because it requires them to truly reason instead of memorizing theorems and application steps for some subjects. You’re not jumping through hoops as some critics might suggest. The goal is to have a grasp on the lessons learned by our forefathers so that there is active wonderment about the rest of the world.
List of the Cons of the Classical Education Model and Curriculum
1. This approach creates division when paired with the modern educational system.
The classical education model is not what most schools offer to their communities. Some administrators might even say that it goes against the agenda of the public educational system. As Liberty Classical Academy puts it, “This [statement] is accurate as it cultivates excellence rather than conformity, seeking not to conform, but rather reform the way education is practiced.”
The classical education model challenges children to leverage their natural abilities at each physical developmental stage of childhood. Students who come from this setting can be better equipped to manage a variety of challenges, but they also might not have the skills needed to get into a new job right away.
2. It is an approach that does not offer specialization.
You will not see any standardized tests in the classical education model. There are no ways to specialize in this system to pursue a specific career. The goal of this approach is to teach students how to think, which encourages them how to live a good life. Anyone can take a certification class after graduation to create new job opportunities for themselves. This curriculum believes that you must know how to engage your logic and creative centers with your reading and writing before you’re an effective communicator.
3. This curriculum can change how students approach their first language.
Students who go through the classical education model often experience difficulties when using their first language. This disadvantage is especially prevalent when it is English. Learning Latin or Greek reduces the clarity of other languages because the structures are so different. Why use two words when only one will do?
You will find long sentences where every adjective or adverb possible is used. The goal is to leave nothing to the imagination. Although this issue is not universal, it can be problematic for those who grow up with aspirations for writing.
4. There can be deficiencies in mathematics and science.
When schools take the classical education model and curriculum over a modern approach, then there can be deficiencies in math and science. The ancient approach skips over these subjects because they were in their infancy during the stages of development. Even today, the idea is that you can become a great thinker and figure out the concepts after graduation because you’ve got a strong foundation to build upon for that work. If you are passionate about these subjects, then your experience in school might not be as beneficial as expected.
The quadrivium has four “liberal arts” elements that fall outside of the trivium in this approach. That means some schools might see problems in their music, astronomy, and geometry classes as well. There are some ways to fix this approach so that the rules of the mathematics language are learned, but there is a prevalence of students to lag behind after graduation from this curriculum.
5. The curriculum is very rigid in its approach.
There is little room for flexibility if the classical education model is the preferred approach to learning. Some kids need legitimate accommodations because of learning disabilities, physical challenges, or other individualistic requirements. The classical approach is a tightly-controlled process that might offer some accountability, but it also has the power to stifle chances for some children to learn. Some kids learn better by going down rabbit trails than they do learning a series of rote facts that require memorization until they reach the seventh grade.
6. There is a performance element to the classical educational model.
Proponents of the classical education model talk about the benefits of not going through standardized tests, but that doesn’t eliminate the requirement for specific performance. Kids learn through songs, chants, and rhyme using this method – and some children do not like that kind of attention. It makes them feel embarrassed, especially if they can’t remember something and the rest of their friends do.
Sallie Borrink talks about her hesitation in embracing this model because her daughter “does not like to perform in any way, shape, or form.” The little girl backed out of being in a wedding because she didn’t want people looking at her. If a child isn’t interested in singing or chanting, then this curriculum has no way to help.
7. Perfection is the standard for children in this system.
The goal of the classical education model is to teach specific facts to students in a way that helps them to recall the information later in life. That means the only standard for success with this approach is perfection. Kids that are gifted and talented today often struggle with the idea of perfectionism as it is. Telling them that they’re failures because they forgot one fact can have a tremendous influence on their self-esteem throughout life. If you judge kids equally without taking into account the possibility of learning differences, then only a handful of children will ever meet that standard.
Think about the people through history that you can name as being the greatest philosophers, artists, thinkers, and scientists. That’s the result of the classical educational model. Everyone who doesn’t achieve success gets forgotten.
8. There are religious elements heavily influencing the educational process.
The classical education developed during the time when Christianity was conquering Europe. The Medieval thinkers began to refine it to create the three paths that we use today. That’s why you will find most private providers of this curriculum coming from religious institutions. Although you don’t need to follow the spiritual guidelines often outlined in this approach, there are influences that could be bothersome to individuals that come from a different faith.
Bradley Green exemplifies this disadvantage with a post titled “How Classical Education Shapes Us as God Intended” for The Gospel Coalition. “One of the tragedies of much of contemporary education is a failure to retain the importance of language,” he writes. “Classical schools are trying to recover the centrality of the trivium as essential to true education.
When we examine the pros and cons of using the classical education model and curriculum, the emphasis on facts and didactic instruction can lead some students toward success.
Charles Sykes, author of Dumbing Down Our Kids, tells the story of an eighth-grade student named Andrea. She was eager to learn about science, but her school emphasized creativity over fact-based learning. Her goal was to learn real concepts instead of drawing pictures of scientists and picking up cereal with tongue depressors. When she wrote a letter to the school to complain, the district expelled her for being disrespectful.
Supporters also look to E.D. Hirsch and his book Cultural Literacy. He cites an article from the Washington Post where only two students could identify Thomas Jefferson and one could place the date of the Declaration of Independence. No one knew when the U.S. Civil War was fought.
The danger in using this approach is in the assumptions that get made. Those who provide this curriculum often see themselves as rebels. The reality is that a fusion of concepts is often necessary for students to receive a diverse, well-rounded education.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.