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A Classical Education is Practical

in Family

A Classical Education is Practical

in Family

This is part of the series Classical Homeschooling

Yesterday, I discussed one of the biggest challenges to a classical education: practicality. We’re going to take this on in two parts.

First: Defining Terms.

The traditional liberal arts are grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These three represent what’s called the Trivium, or the “three paths,” Then there are arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music–or the Quadrivium, the “four paths.”

These “liberal arts” constitute the main body of a classical education according to most modern classical educators.

“Liberal” is not the modern political sense of the word, meaning “not conservative.” Rather, in this case it refers to the Latin root “liber,” meaning “to free.” An education in the liberal arts is one that makes the student free. I’ll go into more detail on this in another post, for now I want to get to the word “arts.”

“Arts” in this case can be contrasted with sciences. In the Liberal Arts Tradition, Jain and Clark define sciences as knowledge whose realm of influence is the mind. Arts, they say, are essentially applied sciences, or skills. The student gains knowledge in the science and puts that knowledge into practice through the art.

According to this definition, each of the liberal arts is fundamentally practical. Each liberal art is a skill.

Contrast this with the view of classical education popularized by Dorothy Sayers in her essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, which views the liberal arts as stages of cognitive development. In this view, each subject has a grammar, logic, and rhetoric. So if one were to study chemistry, one would start with the grammar, or “vocabulary” of chemistry: naming parts of atoms, elements on the periodic table, etc. The logic of chemistry then means figuring out how those elements go together, for example in chemical equations. Then the rhetoric of chemistry would mean invention: coming up with one’s own experiments.

Though this view of classical education can be helpful in determining a course of study, it’s not really what are Aristotle meant.

Those students who received a classical education in antiquity really did study grammar as subject matter, not as a method. How does one form a grammatically correct sentence? They studied logic: what a sound arguments is, and how to spot a fallacious argument. Rhetoric was the practice of actually speaking persuasively. Arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy gave the ancients real skills, like how to keep the books and not go broke if you were a merchant, how to build furniture, or, say, a colosseum, and navigation on land and water using the stars. And music: expression through voice and instrument.

What makes these arts practical?

I think I can sum this up with a negative definition. Imagine what it would be like if you did not have the skills represented by the liberal arts.

  • What if you couldn’t understand or write in any language? Would you be more or less prone to following an unethical leader?
  • What if you couldn’t spot the fact that the talking head on TV was using an ad hominem attack on his political opponent? Would you sympathize with him, since the other guy really was funny-looking? How would this influence how you voted?
  • What if you couldn’t speak persuasively? How would you convince your children not to run out in front of cars in the parking lot?
  • What if the teller at the big box store charged you whatever he felt like charging every month for toilet paper? How much does arithmetic really matter to your family budget?
  • What if those who built your house or roads did not know geometry?
  • What would your job look like if no one could tell time because no one through history had ever learned astronomy?
  • How empty would the world be without music?

So yes, I think the liberal arts are eminently practical.

Click here for Part 2.

Rhiannon Kutzer

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Nice to meet you!

I’m Rhiannon.

You can call me Rhi for short (as in “rejoice”). I’m a fiercely independent homeschooling mom of five, a Navy wife of 13 years, and a creator of various things: articles, a semi-regular newsletter, quilts, furniture, and the occasional knitted scarf. This is the site where I write about our homeschool journey and news and happenings in the homeschool world. more about me.


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Need a shot in the arm for your homeschool? Get Thrive Together, a monthly email that brings you:

--the best of the homeschool blogosphere,
--current homeschool news,
--and great quotes that will refresh your homeschool mama mind.

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You don’t know the holiness of that bedside, where Christ meets you with His peace when everything is out of your hands. That bedside, where literally all you can do is read scripture and pray.
I am telling you, that is a bedside you do NOT want to be at.
I have been there and I never want to go back. God and an army of prayer warriors got us through that. Our person is still vulnerable. There are people in your life who are vulnerable.
We were at that bedside with decades of collective medical experience on our side to develop best practices and treatment plans, and learn from mistakes made on other patients.
Our loved ones who end up fighting COVID-19 with the help of a humming ventilator will not have that benefit. This disease is just too new.
If you’re a leader of people, your job right now is to take care of your people. Be honest. Take this seriously. (We can do that without letting fear take control.)
If you’re an employee, protect yourself, so you can protect your family. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, eat your vegetables, exercise, get good sleep, take some vitamin C.
Above all #STAYHOME to #flattenthecurve so that you don’t end up by that bedside with not enough resources. Stay home, so that when the vulnerable person in your life needs it, they’ll have access to the ventilators and care they need.
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I would feel totally overwhelmed and underprepared if I were in your shoes. Homeschooling is hard even when you did choose it. We’ve changed a little, too. Every meal is a reading meal these days if the kids want that. (They do🤓.)
So, please ask me all your questions. I and other HSing mamas in your community have YEARS of experience with this atypical version of education. How can we help you and your specific kids in your specific situation? We have learned a lot of things the hard way and we are happy to help make this time smoother for you.
What I desperately hope: those of you stuck in a situation you didn’t want AT ALL, might come to see education a little differently. It can be flexible. It can happen over the course of a whole day, with snacks, outside time, screen time, and play interspersed between lessons.
This type of education is more about LIFE and HOME than you might think. While your students may be doing the same work assigned by the school, the setting change from school to home will change almost everything else about their educational experience this semester.
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2. Alternate between types of work.
The younger the kids, the shorter the lessons. Ballpark: elementary should be 15-30min/subject max. Middle school 30-45min/subject max.
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