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The Future of Classical Education

By Fritz Hinrichs
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #19, 1997.

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Fritz Hinrichs


For many homeschoolers, homeschooling has been a necessity brought on by the demise of the public school system. But no longer are homeschoolers merely retreating from the mess the public schools have made of education; they are looking to revive true educational excellence. Two new movements promise to take homeschooling forward - the growth of media resources (primarily video and the Internet) and the rise of classical education as a defining goal for homeschooling.

A Classical Education

Classical Christian education uses the educational pedagogy that has been proven effective in the past to develop Christian minds that will prudently discern the present. A child begins a classical education by proceeding through the three stages of the trivium - grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Each of these stages is perfectly suited to a child's learning development. The grammar stage is appropriate for young children as it focuses on the memorization of facts. Young children are very quick at picking up facts, even though they are not yet capable of logically analyzing their significance. As children grow older, they gradually become aware of the logical relationship between facts and the potential for logical contradiction to arise. At this time, children can move into the dialectical period. During the dialectical period, children are taught logic in order to hone their developing natural abilities and equip them to analyze the information they have accumulated. After becoming proficient in logic a child moves into the rhetoric period and learns to present what he has learned in a manner that is not only logical, but also aesthetically pleasing and persuasive.

Given this training, students are ready to comprehend and discern the ideas contained in the great books that have shaped our culture's history. By reading the great books and becoming familiar with the ideas that have shaped our culture, students are equipped to apply their powers of biblical discernment to our contemporary culture.

Most anyone familiar with history has come to the humbling realization that even our sharpest minds do not match the mental capabilities possessed by the shining lights of history. Many have found that the writings of our own nation's founding fathers show an eloquence and depth of thought that put us to shame. In the past, homeschoolers have desired to simply return to a wholesome "back to the basics" type of education - something like that had by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Today, many homeschoolers want to know how to raise an orator such as Patrick Henry or a man of the political insight and principle of George Washington. Increasingly, homeschoolers have been turning to classical Christian education for answers to these questions. Classical Christian education attempts to glean from the experience and wisdom found in the past in order to understand why are own contemporary attempts at education seem to fall so short.

Lessons from the Past

Remembering the past always helps us to understand the present. It is helpful to ask, "Why were schools formed?" Schools were formed because there are those who have education and those who are in need of it. The most effective means of bringing these two together in order that the "haves" might impart their wisdom to the "have nots" was through the schoolhouse. This arrangement worked well, as it allowed a large number of students to come together for the common support of the schoolmaster. Private tutoring was always an option but usually required that a single family provide the tutor's entire support. By bringing a number of families together to support the educator, he would then be able to devote the time necessary to refine his scholarly abilities.

The economic advantage of the schoolhouse system was accompanied by the disadvantages brought about through schoolhouse's necessary separation of education and home. In a society where the average population is highly educated, this separation will not have a profound effect; however, as the level of education in society at large crumbles, the school experience loses cultural context and thus becomes irrelevant. Unless it is simply reinforcing the education going on in the home, the schoolhouse can not serve its purpose. Homeschooling is bringing education back into children's daily culture because it makes education a familial pursuit.

The difficulty homeschooling has faced is the inability of most parents to set aside the time necessary to master the many subjects they are trying to teach - especially in the high-school years. The schoolmaster has the advantage of making education his full-time pursuit, even focusing his efforts on a narrow field of study. Homeschool parents are not afforded such luxuries. Unless their children are going to learn independently, parents must master a tremendous breadth of material.

Technology - Bringing Learning Communities Home

Untying this Gordian Knot has been the privilege of modern technology. Most subjects are of sufficient complexity that an instructor needs to stand between the student and the knowledge, usually in books, that needs to be mastered. Today, prerecorded video and video conferencing provide the opportunity to bring that instruction to the child without resorting to moving children from the home to the schoolhouse. Many of the nation's finest instructors are recording their teaching on video-tape for mass distribution. The Teaching Company (800-832-2412) has recruited many of the top lecturers from various Ivy league colleges to record lectures on their various areas of specialization. Video allows us to bring instruction into the home that provides that necessary bridge between the child and what he needs to learn.

What prerecorded video lacks in interactivity, video conferencing provides. Video conferencing has been in use for a few years by major corporations to host meetings with participants from around the world; however, this type of industrial conferencing is tremendously expensive. Through the use of software packages such as Netmeeting (http://www.microsoft.com/netmeeting) and CU-Seeme (http://www.cu-seeme.com), video conferencing can now be run over the Internet for just a minimal cost.

Video conferencing allows an instructor to interact with his students in real time. It's as if you were watching a video and then the instructor looks up at you and asks you to answer his next question. Through video conferencing, the schoolhouse has truly come home. The professional tutor now comes to the student's home rather than demanding the students gather around him in the schoolhouse. With modern technology, the tutor can be in many homes at once, so his wages need not come from one family alone. Homeschooling can now enjoy the best of both worlds - economy of scale (the schoolhouse) and home-based professional instruction (the private tutor).

Modern technology will greatly aid the growth of classical education because those interested in it will always be the minority. Classical education is a demanding educational method to follow and those who pursue it will always be few and far between. In the past, it was the scholars and not the tradesmen who would gather around universities for mutual instruction. So also today, classical education enthusiasts are sparsely sprinkled about the nation and need to be brought together in order for iron to sharpen iron. Buildings suited the purpose in the past, today we can make use of technology to build classical communities.

The combination of ancient pedagogy and modern technology will allow homeschooling to increase both the depth of students and their number.


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