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Is it true?

Examining common education statements

Is a classically-based education really all that different?


All parents and teachers have an educational philosophy.

Our opinions and beliefs about learning are formed by experience, consideration, and preference. Since modern and post-modern educational trends have been the majority for most adults' experience, their influence is strong. Quite often, this influence can be spotted in the popular statements about education found in the culture.

Below are some of these statements that are tossed around quite a bit. From a broad classical education perspective, they are answered "true" or "false." Each person is entitled to a different opinion, of course. The intent is to use these questions to show some of the differences between a classical Christian education and the approaches and content of "modern" trends.  

Memorized information gives the student helpful, accessible information in immediate recall that will benefit him the rest of his life.

Of course, no one can memorize everything, which is why it's important to have an academic program that clearly distinguishes and trains what is to mastered.

Math facts present an example.
A student attempting to learn trigonometry can concentrate more on the concept being learned if he already and immediately knows what 11 x 11 equals. The student who does not know his math facts must first work through what he hasn't mastered, whether on calculator, paper, or fingers. Which do you think will have the easier time learning the higher level math? No imagine the same principle applied to biology, literature, and history.

Yes, but what about "real life?"
This skill's application is also true in discussing numbers with a client or boss, computing prices at the grocery store, and figuring square footage in construction. The educationally trained person can immediately know the answer and proceed. This knowledge is helpful in saving time and in being more productive, qualities that employers and other leaders quickly and favorably identify.

Adversisers know the value of memory of course, and they prove it by embedding their brand "knowledge" into our minds through clever slogans and musical "jingles."

While it is certainly true that students need to learn skills in how to access and process the tremendous amounts of information available today, there is no substitute for possessing a large body of internalized core knowledge. Memorized information gives the student helpful accessible information in immediate recall that will benefit him the rest of his life.

Fluency and accuracy
For example, people can "look up" how to spell the one hundred most commonly mispelled words and how to properly use English grammar, but they typically don't take the time to do so; therefore, their usage and accuracy is hampered. The student who knows these things simply uses them, quickly, effortlessly, and often. 

Richer understanding from the same information
The student who deeply knows his subjects -- history, literature, geography, the Bible, science, math, and Latin is one who easily recognizes references and allusions in various literature, speeches, and plays, etc. This provides the student a much more vivid understanding of what is going on. She understands more, because she "sees" more. Despite good intentions, perhaps, the student who has to "look up these things" probably won't, and so misses much.

More immediate recognition
Vocabulary can be looked up, but the majority of adult English words come from Latin origins. The student who knows even basic Latin is equipped to identify the meaning. This is also true with scientific terms, many of which are straightforward Latin words. The prepared student knows what they mean and is less likely to be confused or to forget, because they are literal to him. These terms are not diffcult to learn, nor were they intended to be; they were simple, clear names in Latin.

Paying a higher "compounded" price later
The student or parent who thinks that memorizing key facts is too much work in the earlier years tends to pay a high price later. In the high school and college years that student finds herself confronted with more challenging, faster-moving academics without a strong, mastered body of knowledge. That's when the academics "seem" difficult or complicated or overwhelming, but a directly-contributing factor might be too small of a mastered foundation. The student then has to "paddle" harder to keep up and has to look up meanings and connections that would be easier with mastered facts, timelines, and relationships.

TRUE to a reasonable extent, perhaps, but ultimately FALSE

In the name of literacy, this phrase is repeated by many educators and parents. To be fair, people don't mean this literally. All adults who care about students draw the line somewhere, relative to what's deveolpmentally best for the student. It does raise a great question about educational content in a culture in which decisions about quality are considered relative. This would be akin to the statement, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Classical educators tend to choose content along firmer lines. While adjustments would need to be made in the discussion of reading content at the different developmental and grade levels, examples would include:

  • Reading of time-honored classics of literature
  • Selecting stories that inspire goodness, beauty, and godliness
  • Engaging students in literature that raises moral questions that can be observed, discussed, and debated