Classical Education

What Do We Mean By Classical?

In the 1940s the British author, Dorothy Sayers, wrote an essay entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In it she calls for a return to the application of the seven liberal arts of ancient education, the first three being the “Trivium” – grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Miss Sayers also combines the three stages of children’s development to the Trivium. Specifically, she matches what she calls the “Poll-parrot” stage with grammar, “Pert” with logic, and “Poetic” with rhetoric (see chart below). At CCS, the founding board members were intrigued with this idea of applying a classical education in a Christian context. Doug Wilson, a founding board member of Logos School explained the classical method further in his book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. Cary Christian School has been committed to implementing this form of education since the school’s inception.

Excerpts from Dorothy Sayers’ and Doug Wilson’s works are noted below.

An excerpt from Doug Wilson’s book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning:

“The structure of our curriculum is traditional with a strong emphasis ‘the basics.’ We understand the basics to be subjects such as mathematics, history, and language studies. Not only are these subjects covered, they are covered in a particular way. For example, in history class the students will not only read their text, they will also read from primary sources. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric will be emphasized in all subjects. By grammar, we mean the fundamental rules of each subject (again, we do not limit grammar to language studies), as well as the basic data that exhibit those rules. In English, a singular noun does not take a plural verb. In logic, A does not equal not A. In history, time is linear, not cyclic. Each subject has its own grammar, which we require the students to learn. This enables the student to learn the subject from the inside out.

“The logic of each subject refers to the ordered relationship of that subject’s particulars (grammar). What is the relationship between the Reformation and the colonization of America? What is the relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence? As the students learn the underlying rules or principles of a subject (grammar) along with how the particulars of that subject relate to one another (logic), they are learning to think. They are not simply memorizing fragmented pieces of knowledge.

“The last emphasis is rhetoric. We want our students to be able to express clearly everything they learn. An essay in history must be written as clearly as if it were an English paper. An oral presentation in science should be as coherent as possible. It is not enough that the history or science be correct. It must also be expressed well.”

The following material is drawn from the essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers. It illustrates the applications of the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) used at CCS, according to age group.

Grades K-2

Phonics (Pre-Polly)
Typical ages: 5-8

Grades 3-5

Grammar (Poll-Parrot)
Typical ages: 9-11

Grades 6-8 

Logic (Pert)
Typical ages: 12-14

Grades 9-12

Rhetoric (Poetic)
Typical ages: 15-18

Student Characteristics:

  • Obviously excited about learning
  • Enjoys games, stories, songs, projects
  • Short attention span
  • Wants to touch, taste, feel, smell, see
  • Imaginative, creative


Student Characteristics:

  • Excited about new, interesting facts
  • Likes to explain, figure out, talk
  • Wants to relate own experiences to topic or just tell a story
  • Likes collections, organizing items
  • Likes chants, clever, repetitious word sounds (for example, Dr. Seuss)
  • Easily memorizes
  • Can assimilate another language well


Student Characteristics:

  • Contradicting and answering back
  • Likes to catch and point out the mistakes of others, especially those of elders
  • Enjoys academic puzzles
  • When not disciplined, has a high nuisance value


Student Characteristics:

  • Concerned with present events, especially in own life
  • Interested in justice, fairness
  • Moving toward special interest topics
  • Can take on responsibility, independent work
  • Can do synthesis
  • Desires to express feelings, own ideas
  • Generally idealistic


Teaching Methods:

  • Guide discovering
  • Explore, find things
  • Use lots of tactile items to illustrate point
  • Sing, play games, chant, recite, color, draw, paint, build
  • Use body movements
  • Short, creative projects
  • Show and Tell, drama, hear/read/tell stories
  • Field trips


Teaching Methods:

  • Lots of hands-on work, projects
  • Field trips, drama
  • Make collections, displays, models
  • Integrate subjects through above means
  • Teach and assign research projects
  • Recitations, memorization
  • Drills, games
  • Oral/written presentations
Teaching Methods:

  • Time lines, charts, maps (visual materials)
  • Debates, persuasive reports
  • Drama, reenactments, role-playing
  • Evaluate, critique (with guidelines)
  • Formal logic
  • Research projects
  • Oral/written presentations
  • Guest speakers, trips


Teaching Methods:

  • Drama, oral presentations
  • Guide research in major areas with goal of synthesis of ideas
  • Many papers, speeches, debates
  • Give responsibilities, for example, working with younger students, organizing activities
  • In-depth field trips, even overnight
  • World view discussion/written paper