I’m occasionally asked if classical education is “for everyone.” It’s a reasonable question. Every child is different, every school is different, every teacher and parent and situation is different and carries its own set of challenges. The school where I work, which is a classical Christian school, is very rigorous, both academically and in its expectations for student behavior and protocol. We require a lot of our students, and of our parents as well—and maybe it’s not for everyone.
Classical education, being as it is a way of learning as well as a body of learning, is most definitely for everyone, and I sincerely wish that every young student had the opportunity of being classically educated. This would mean that each child would be allowed to utilize one of their greatest abilities—the ability to learn and memorize by rote—at the exact moment in time when this ability is strongest, from age four or five through about age twelve.
Over the course of several decades, rote learning has fallen out of favor, having been charged with being boring, and stifling to a child’s creative imagination. Upon hearing this charge, it’s tempting to think in terms of our own struggles with memorization, forgetting the absolute delight we ourselves experienced in learning the alphabet song and nursery rhymes, and overlooking the fact that even now we remember things like cartoon themes and TV commercials from when we were kids!
This kind of memorization is a basic tool of learning, and the ongoing review and repetition of things learned in this way form the foundation of all other learning. With a firm grounding in the facts and rules and skills of any discipline, the student is free to learn to make logical connections, formulate and express opinions, and enter into related discussions with others possessing the same foundation of knowledge. To get an idea of what I mean, imagine a young person with natural athletic ability but no understanding of the fundamental skills and rules of basketball trying to be part of a high school basketball team; no matter how naturally gifted he may be, without training and practice he could not participate. A less athletically gifted individual who had been well-grounded in the fundamentals would have a far greater likelihood of success, and a far greater enjoyment of the game.
In the same way, regardless of a student’s natural brilliance (or lack thereof), with a carefully laid foundation of well-learned fundamentals, he or she will be ready to make logical connections, understand the issues of our day, develop their own perspectives, and articulate them to others—think of the opportunities this would bring in everything from college and job applications to a deeper enjoyment of all aspects of life!
This kind of learning requires consistency of work and dedication, primarily on the part of the parent. When it would be far easier to opt for an evening of TV or X-Box, mom and dad have to see to it that Jr. carefully and methodically goes through all of his homework. Perhaps it is at this point that one may truly say that classical education is not “for everyone,” –because it’s not enough to want great things for your children—you have to be willing to work to bring it about!