After making a video on the 20 Principles of Charlotte Mason, I was keen to investigate whether there were core principles of classical education that would allow parents to quickly grasp how classical education worked in a short space of time. The 7 liberal arts tell you what’s in the curriculum but what is the endpoint?
That is what we’re trying to gather in this article.
I’ve gathered my information from a few sources, but one very helpful video which I’m following closely in the article is the talk by Dr. Christopher Perrin from Classical Academic Press at this link. I hope it sheds some light on the topic for you as it did for me!
Principle 1: Make Haste Slowly
When I was a homeschooled student, I finished my Year 10 work in 5 months. Pretty impressive, huh. But, what if I were to tell you I barely received credits for all my work. Would you be so impressed?
The first principle of classical education has to do with getting things done properly. Students need to take care when they do their work.
We want to teach our children not to be lazy, but to work with diligence. We want to work with our students in a way that ensures mastery.
Don’t just encourage your children to ‘get the work done’. Encourage them to do it with good grace. And encourage them to try to complete their work in a way that is as close to perfect as possible (this is one of Charlotte Mason’s principles).
Rushing work makes it sloppy and exhibits a student’s intemperance. Temperance is one of the classical virtues (see principle #7 ) we want to promote in education.
For example, if you’re doing high school grammar and you don’t master the vocabulary in the course, problems will surface as you try to move on to other material because you don’t have a good foundation.
In a large classroom, it’s tempting to go on once you’ve finished a lesson. However, festina lente which is the Latin for ‘make haste slowly’, tells us to master it before we move on.
Principle 2: Less is More
If you do too much, you can really kill a student’s love of learning. The second principle of classical education warns against this and advocates students do less but master it well (as in principle 1).
Don’t spread student’s time too thinly, otherwise, it will have the same result as watered-down soup. It will taste no good.
But let them spend more time on a topic, learning it well and going deep as they master the subject. Essentially, don’t dabble in many and master none.
The video by Classical Academic Press gives the example of a Spanish student who says, ‘Well, yes. I took Spanish in high school – but, don’t ask me to say anything’.
This is also one of the principles of classical education that has something to say about cramming. The practice should be discouraged in favor of encouraging a more sustained learning habit.
Children should have time to go deep into their subjects. For example, when you study English literature, instead of giving your children a bundle of novels to learn, pick a few and go into them deeply. This means they have a lot of time to study each one well.
And busyness is a reason we are no longer excited about Shakespeare. Most people I know don’t enjoy Shakespeare, even though most were made to study a book of it in their high school days (my husband did Othello; I did Hamlet).
Why we don’t enjoy it
The reason we didn’t enjoy it was because we covered it so quickly that we didn’t get a chance to go into it thoroughly, and didn’t understand a lot of it.
But, you need time to learn the old English, and time to learn the historical context of the play.
If you were given adequate time to ‘get Sheakspeare’, you would like him, and like him a lot, because he was a master writer.
If we fail to give students this time, we put them in danger of feeling discouraged as they never really get a chance to master great literature. Therefore, they:
- give up on learning great literature, as
- it all seems too hard for them as they were
- never able to ‘get it’ as
- they didn’t have enough time!
The idea with multum non multa (literally ‘much not many’), is that we will learn more from few subjects we study deeply than we would if we were learning a great many subjects lightly.
Principle 3: Repetition is the Mother of Memory
This principle is especially used in the grammar stage (early stages) of classical education.
The idea is that students get hold of a beautiful saying or phrase, word, jingle, or chant and they turn it over in their minds, reflecting on its beauty.
These days we’ve become a little allergic to repetition in schools. We say it’s boring for the kids and embitters them towards learning. This would be true if we were making high-school-aged students learn their work by too much repetition. But, young children actually like repeating things and they’re good at it!
It helps them store things that are ‘true, beautiful, and good‘ away for later use.
‘Repititio mater memoriae‘ is, therefore, a principle of classical education as it helps us learn many things in the early years with ease.
Principle 4: Songs Chants and Jingles
This is one of the fun principles of classical education. Why? Because children love to sing, the idea in Principle #4 is that we teach them using tools they already love. We put things in song form because they love singing. Latin grammar is a good example.
Here is a charming example of the Latin endings in song form. You can see how much the students are enjoying themselves!
After all, children love to sing silly songs and nursery rhymes; why not get them to sing things that will help them in their learning.
Principle 5: Embodied Learning (We learn by many things, not just curriculum)
Education isn’t only a rational process.
Don’t think of education as only information. Because education should also be the formation of the soul, mind, and character of the student.
And we are educated as much by our five senses (perhaps more) as we are by what we learn in our curriculum. Even our environment and our relationships with those around us shape us a lot more than we realize. We are more emotional than we think and often make decisions from what we’re feeling. And that is a way we are educated also.
As we recognize how we are educated, we need to pay attention to what our students are learning through their five senses. Dr. Perrin gives the example of a classroom. Is it a relaxing environment to learn in or are they learning under fluorescent lights with unhelpful, gaudy educational aids on the walls?
We can see our children’s influences by watching what they do.
What do they gravitate towards in their spare time? Many are hooked on video games, Youtube, music, sports, and so on. As educators, we need to understand they’re being educated in those spheres too. But, are they being educated by the right material?
Principle 6: Wonder and Curiosity
This is one of my favorite principles of classical education. And that is because the idea of this principle of classical education is that we want to create lifelong learners by inspiring curiosity in education and wonder and awe of creation, humans, and God.
We need to foster the built-in wonder children are born with. Maintaining it has been a challenge, especially in traditional schools. Many middle-schoolers in a traditional school setting start to view learning as uncool. But, we need to maintain a love of learning and curiosity.
Ask yourself, does their curriculum or their teacher or their environment inspire wonder and encourage curiosity? Or do they stifle wonder and curiosity and make learning dreary?
Inspiring wonder in our students is very important. Why? Josef Pieper, the author of Leisure: The Basis of Culture says wonder is essential in education because wonder leads to worship which then leads to wisdom.
And you could say the ‘wonder to worship to wisdom‘ is a classical education mantra in a nutshell. We need to make sure our students don’t lose their wonder because to do so would mean we lose what follows.
Principle 7: Educational/Educational/Intellectual Virtues
We often think the intelligent person is the person who knows a lot of facts. Not so in the classical arena. The seventh principle of classical education says we are to be selective about what we learn. Not everything is equal. We go after truth, goodness, and beauty.
And so, one of the ideas here is to recognize the uselessness of everything else if you have developed a student without educational virtues. Educational virtues include love, humility, courage, diligence, constancy, temperance, and perseverance. Dr. Perrin argues that if a student doesn’t have these things, he isn’t really a student.
And that’s because a student who doesn’t have these virtues is someone who isn’t zealous and eager for truth, goodness, and beauty (and so they’re not really studying at all).
As a classical educator, you’re required to cultivate these virtues in children. And if you do that, you will have a student who has acquired a love of learning and can learn even if the teacher is absent!
We need to cultivate an eagerness to learn – an attitude of excitement if you like. We need to hold up to the student that which is true, good, and beautiful so that a child is excited about learning, and can seek that which is true by himself in time.
Principle 8: Reflection on Good Things, Contemplation, and Leisure
When you go to a school today, do you often see children at leisure, discussing interesting topics with oodles of time? Or do you see them madly running from classroom to classroom for their 2:30 Piano lesson, their 3:30 Algebra class, and their 4:30 Biology lab?
After 40 minutes do you move onto the next class, or do you have time to extend that period if needed?
This principle of classical education somewhat reflects on the principle of multum non multa in that we need to slow down and cover things more deeply.
Good education requires plenty of time. We need to be creating students who are not anxious because they have no time to do this or that, but rather students who are at leisure to learn, eager to take on board the next topic of conversation.
SLOW DOWN. Make learning for kids feel like they’re having a leisurely weekend. Let them have fun. And in doing so, they’ll learn more.
Conclusion: Principles of Classical Education
Wow. These principles of classical education really help to re-align my educational philosophy and practice. They remind us to do things properly, to slow down and have fun learning, to cultivate a love of truth, goodness, and beauty, and to foster wonder and curiosity in our students. How different our homeschools will look if we take on even a little bit of this wisdom!