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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.

Rhiannon

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  • Happy New Year and all, but more importantly, today we got to watch our @wyo_football win the Arizona Bowl. (With a freshman QB starting for the 1st time ever, btw 😮😮😮💪🏻) Way to go Pokes! #theWorldNeedsMoreCowboys #OneWyoming #GoWyo
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  • Morning Time Details! E. (12), S. (almost 8), and L. (6). Our Morning Time morphs as the kids grow and change. It usually includes a combination of memory work and reading aloud. We try to cover a WHOLE LOT of things: Shakespeare, Bible, poetry, catechism, hymns, timeline, art study, composer study, and Ambleside selections for nature study, tales, and church history. This term I’m adding Plutarch.
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The hard part is figuring out where I want to aim, with the 5-year gap between E. and S., and then L. being a newbie to full-on school. Having moved twice in 2019, I nixed MT and just focused on individual work. That came with costs. Shakespeare, Plutarch, art study, and composer study suffered. Memory work barely happened at all. I was BUSY. We missed out on discussing things together. Now that we’re settled, it’s time to restart MT.
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This term I’ve decided to aim Shakespeare and Plutarch at the oldest, while the girls listen in and do handwriting/drawing/fine motor. I won’t ask them for much narration. Our reading schedule for these is AMBITIOUS. Maybe crazy. Then we’ll do all the memory & read aloud stuff that suits everyone. These lessons are SHORT. Then E. will go do his individual work while I read aloud w/ just the girls.
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Also, “Morning Time” is a misnomer, considering we break it up throughout the day. It should really be called Morning/Lunch/Nap Time. I need a new name. Circle Time? Except we don’t sit in a circle. Together school? Except we’re together doing school all day. I don’t think English has the word I’m looking for. Maybe Tertulia or Salon?
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Our actual coursework is: the Scottish Play, Plutarch is Alexander the Great’s life, our artist is Gustave Courbet, composer is Paganini, Bible memory is Psalm 46, Hymn is Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me, read alouds will rotate from Burgess Bird Book, Trial and Triumph, Blue Fairy Book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Vanderbeekers, & picture books. Timeline is from Classical Conversations. Poems are Charge of the Light Brigade, Winter Night by Teasdale, and The Land of Nod.
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Whew! It’s gonna be a fun term! What do you guys do for Morning Time?
  • #homeschool #family #weekend projects. Oldest got through a CPR course, curtains are hung, first batch ever of hard apple cider is bottled (a big learning experience!), and Morning Time for the next term is planned. 👊🏻 Time to call Dominos so these people can get fed 😂
  • Oh Halloween. That day when I pull costumes out of thin air at T-minus one hour ‘till trick-or-treating. Then one kid melts down in the middle of the fun, and is carried screaming to the car, with me hoping all the while that no one thinks I’m abducting a child. And, my favorite non-PC thought: one kid suggests we should have dressed as hobos, since we’re going around asking people to give us free candy. Phoned it in this year, Kutzers. 🤦🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♀️ #gladitsover For the record, we had a soccer player, an archer, Spider Girl, a princess, a tiny farmer, a witchy mom (Is that even a costume or just a Thursday?), and Bat Dad.
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