Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Classical Education vs. Progressive Education



By Jory Westberry

If you’ve been following the campaign rhetoric during campaigning for the Collier County School Board, you may have heard the term “Classical Education” proposed by two candidates as the ideal education for the students in Collier County schools. But what is it and how does it compare to the education our students are receiving now?

Classical education began with the Greeks and Romans over 1,000 years ago and declined during the 1800s with the Progressive belief that students “learn by doing,” rather than memorizing.

Classical education is based on the Trivium subjects, which are grammar, logic and rhetoric. In the teaching of language/verbal arts for ages 5-11, (grades K-6) the focus is on grammar, syntax, structure and vocabulary. Factual information is emphasized, i.e. memorizing the 20 main rivers of the world or scripture through direct instruction, chanting/singing and discussion of reading.

For ages 11-14, (grades 7-9) the focus is on clarity of logic, reasoning and debate. Students are encouraged to argue their points of view. For ages 14-18, (grades 10–12) the focus is on eloquence and persuasion in both writing and oral presentations. Literature, math, science, history and fine arts are also taught at each level.

Progressive education has made some interesting transitions. “Learning by doing” is now called “hands on learning” and is highly effective for students performing science experiments, writing and acting, technology projects such as building electrical circuits or inventions with littleBits or creating three-dimensional pottery. Grammar, literature, phonics and poetry are components of the language program.

Math has also made some transitions. Students are taught to understand numbers before learning the standard algorithms and they also learn alternate methods of solving problems. When multiplying three-digit numbers together, for most students, the process is more complicated and less understood when learning the standard algorithm as the first step.

In public schools today, teachers are using standards, their creativity and a choice of resources that they know are effective to teach students. They have the freedom to design lessons, whether foreign language, the classical literature in English, writing, math, social studies, science, music, art, technology or physical education that engage and challenge their students and then measure the depth of student learning. The challenge for our teachers is having the time to create those dynamic lessons. (That’s another article soon.)

There are significant differences between Classical and Progressive/Modern education so these examples only scratch the surface. The point is not that Classical education is wrong; it might serve some students and families well. The question is whether a Classical education would serve all students in the school district, and in doing so, negate years of research on brain functioning, learning styles, retention of learning and more.

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