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Project-Oriented Classical Education

Following University of Chicago luminaries such as Robert Hutchens and Alvin Adler, authors such as E.D. Hirsch, William Bennett and Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer have advocated a "liberal" or "classical" education. In The Well-Trained Mind, the Wises favor education that is both rigorous in its linguistic demands and comprehensive in its approach to human endeavor through literature and history. We favor classical educational content tailored to fit each student by means of project-oriented learning methods.

The Wises expose children to the whole of world civilization three times between grades one and twelve. E.D. Hirsch, author of What Your 6th Grader Needs to Know, locates the foundation for academic success in "a body of widely used knowledge taken for granted by competent writers and speakers in the United States." William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, states in The Educated Child that:

...great books, poems, works of art and music are all part of a long conversation that echoes through the ages, embodying mankind's greatest ideas and achievements....For your child to be able to participate in that great conversation -- to penetrate it, to appreciate the magnificence of its ideas, the grandeur of achievements, the rich legacy of human endeavor -- he must have a familiarity with the references and metaphors that make up the common language.

The classical method, which harkens back to medieval education and the Western Civilizations program at the University of Chicago, takes children through an integrated program of study of all subjects which has three stages in its "Trivium" before students advance to specialized studies like law, medicine or theology in the "Quadrivium":

  1. The Grammar Stage: students learn the grammar of mathematics and languages, their structures and basic functions and facts which must be understood to advance.
  2. The Logic Stage: students learn how to use that knowledge logically: how to define terms and make accurate statements, how to detect fallacious argumentation.
  3. The Rhetoric Stage: they refine their logical expression by practicing eloquence.
  4. The Quadrivium: They master specialized subjects for career goals.

Our curriculum serves students who have left public schools to attain higher standards. Our instructors need not choose "dumbed-down" or "politically-correct" curricula. We proudly teach middle school and high school students the Bible, Socrates, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Burke, Rand, Friedman, Hayek, Gibbon, Samuel Morrison or Paul Johnson. To help homeschoolers earn college credits without government interference, we then pass high school students through challenging Advanced Placement Courses in History, English, Computers, Calculus, Chemistry, Biology and Physics.

Students should learn the great books -- and perhaps even Latin -- but they need not read exactly the same books in exactly the same order. We would modify the traditional classical approach in line with the insights of Maria Montessori who wanted education to be project oriented and dedicated to encouraging individual creativity and leadership. Gifted students do have different talents which can be favored, but we encourage linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligence as the most broadly-useful form of knowledge. We do everything we can to encourage and reward student-initiated projects, but we keep those projects related to the great books and ideas. For instance, our AP Literature classes encourage students to pick the poet and novelist of their choice for term projects; world history classes let kids study the religion of their choice. We agree with the Wise's that this rigorous education produces students who think for themselves, who are "literate, curious, intelligent students who have a wide range of interests and the ability to follow up on them."

We agree with the Wise's that this rigorous education, which can be completed at home, produces students who think for themselves, who are "literate, curious, intelligent students who have a wide range of interests and the ability to follow up on them."

For more information, students should turn to The Well-Trained Mind or, for a shorter article on the subject, to Dorothy Sayers' "Lost Tools of Learning".