Classical education seeks to preserve the past—to make sure the people and events of the past are remembered; the thoughts and philosophies, the art, music and literature, and even the languages of the past must, according to the classical educator, be passed on to the next generation. This necessarily involves reading, studying and memorization of a particular sort in a particular way. The learning must be done sequentially, thoroughly, beginning with the basic components of phonics, spelling and writing, which are the tools needed for reading; this proceeds to the ability to understand and retell a narrative, and the memorization of historical facts in chronological order. This process, known as Grammar in classical-education lingo, occurs at the elementary level, while young minds enjoy and are good at memorizing ditties and chants, and before they really care why a certain event occurred or have any interest in its connection to the broader scope of history.
Towards the end of elementary school, the tools they’ve learned and used and improved are tested and put to use in more challenging ways as they learn to summarize articles, lessons, and stories, gleaning from them their essence, and composing paragraphs and essays in their own words. Teaching becomes more Socratic, as students are led to think and ask questions by being questioned themselves. No longer will it suffice simply to regurgitate memorized facts—they must think through seemingly unrelated facts to draw obvious and not-so-obvious conclusions. Mental muscle is being built and strengthened in new ways.
In the midst of this process, a new tool is introduced—formal logic: if A, then B. Students study Logic as a discipline, a science with rules and procedures; this is, again, a strengthening of the mind of the pupil. Students at this age are also introduced to some of the greatest literature ever written, engaging with the philosophy, culture, and history of many ages. As they discuss these works with their instructors, they will be asked to think logically, to use the framework of history they were given in elementary school, and to utilize the tools of reading and composition they have been collecting and sharpening over the years.
As they reach their high school years, the student of a classical education will have quite a tool box: a broad framework and understanding of history, from ancient times to the present, the ability to read and write and think logically, and a treasure-trove of thought and beauty from the literature, art and music they have been exposed to. Now they begin to learn the art of expression through the study of Rhetoric from greats such as Aristotle and Cicero. As they practice speaking publicly, participating in drama and mock trial, writing fiction, poetry, and persuasive papers, they will gain confidence and poise. This last tool of Rhetoric, the ability to speak and write with clarity and persuasiveness, will complete their preparation for a lifetime of learning.
Graduates of such an education will have a good foundation for a life of responsible interaction with the culture, contribution to whatever society or country in which they live, and the ability to read and understand unfolding events in the broader context of the entire scope of history.