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An In-Depth Look

Classical Education


October 2003

by Terrence Moore

One thing that is never studied in modern, progressive schools of education is the classical-medieval organization of studies known as the trivium. Since classical education regards human beings foremost as thinking creatures, at every level of education youth must be invited to think about the great problems of the physical and moral worlds. Nonetheless, the ancients knew that learning must be tailored to the age of the student. Therefore, ancient educators such as the great Quintilian followed a carefully graduated curriculum that corresponded to the child’s level of understanding and his psychological makeup. Dorothy Sayers has explained the trivium in her seminal essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.”

Young people have to begin at the beginning. At the first stage of education students must master the basics, or the “grammar,” of every subject. They must learn to read, using the parts of words, or phonemes, in order to master the words themselves. They must know the grammar of their own language, which means correct spelling and proper word usage. They learn the people, places, and events of world history. They gain a basic “number sense” by manipulating numbers in various mathematical arrangements. Students learn to read music, to sing and play basic instruments, and to listen closely to various genres of music. They learn to recognize and to classify various parts of the physical universe. They should particularly learn the different kinds of animals, plants, and the planets of our solar system and various constellations in our galaxy. At this juncture education relies heavily on young people’s memory. By nature children love to memorize things. Simply ask a child to repeat back the details of a story you have just read him and watch his face light up!

Once students have gained a pretty good handle on the grammar of various subjects, they move into the “logic” stage of education. Since this level corresponds to the onset of adolescence, it might also be called the “argumentative” stage. Though students continue to study the facts of the various disciplines, they now have the intellectual capacity to call those facts into question or to wrestle with them. Indeed, their nature prompts them to do so, as any parent of an adolescent will testify. Let us take an example from a lesson on the Civil War. Teacher: “O. K., so Lincoln emancipated only the slaves in the seceded states and left those in the border states in bondage. Was this a good decision or a bad decision?” Then the class debates for a time. Afterwards, the teacher, using some of the arguments made by the students, explains Lincoln’s policy of Emancipation. Logic, or argumentation, is applicable to all subjects. A good mathematics teacher will ask a student when venturing a solution to a problem to “defend” his answer.

High school should be considered the third part of the trivium, the “rhetorical” stage. Having the facts at their disposal and being able to wrestle with them, students will now be able to express themselves with increasing grace and at considerable length, both in speech and in writing. They will learn to make coherent literary, historical, mathematical, and scientific arguments. They are ready to tackle difficult readings and problems. Too often in this country we wait until college to challenge young people with meaningful intellectual work, numbing their minds with worksheets and starving their souls by using “teacher edition” approaches to even the greatest works of literature. Once some of my own students asked me whether what we were going to do in my class was just read books and talk about them. “Yes, as well as write papers and take a test or two.” “No worksheets?” asked one student. “No,” I responded, “because the problems of the world do not come to you in the form of a worksheet.” Instead, you must understand the situation, formulate a response, and put that response into action.

By the time young people reach their teens they are ready to explore the great questions posed by the moral and physical worlds in order to reflect on the nature of their humanity, to understand their place in the cosmos, and to articulate convincingly their findings. Such an undertaking requires them to read and to discuss the “classics,” which contain the best that has been thought and said and done by the great thinkers and heroes of the past. How otherwise should we prepare them for the world they will face and the positions of responsibility they will inherit?

Terrence Moore is an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center. He studied history and political science at The University of Chicago and later earned a Ph.D. in history from The University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Moore served as a Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps, was an assistant professor of history at Ashland University in Ohio,  the formar Principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins and is now a professor at Hillsdale College.

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A Core Knowledge Education

At Caprock Academy we believe every child has the right to a content rich education.  We believe that every child has the ability to use the Core Knowledge Sequence to unlock his/her highest academic potential. 

"The idea behind Core Knowledge is simple and powerful: knowledge builds on knowledge. The more you know, the more you are able to learn. This insight, well-established by cognitive science, has profound implications for teaching and learning. Nearly all of our most important goals for education–greater reading comprehension, the ability to think critically and solve problems, even higher test scores–are a function of the depth and breadth of our knowledge.

By outlining the precise content that every child should learn in language arts and literature, history and geography, mathematics, science, music, and the visual arts, the Core Knowledge curriculum represents a first-of-its kind effort to identify the foundational knowledge every child needs to reach these goals–and to teach it, grade-by-grade, year-by-year, in a coherent, age-appropriate sequence."  ~ Core Knowledge Foundation 

Click here for more information on the Core Knowledge Sequence. 


Singapore Math

The Singapore mathematics curriculum is derived from an education system that focuses on thinking and places a strong emphasis on conceptual understanding and mathematical problem-solving. Instead of the “inch deep, mile wide” approach that is common in U.S. textbooks, the Singapore Math method follows a spiral progression. Students advance from concrete to pictorial and then to abstract representations. Among Singapore Math's unique learning tools is the Bar Model method, which allows students to visualize complex word problems through the use of diagrams. Through visualization, students learn to truly understand the relationships between and among the variables.

"My youngest is now at Caprock and is using the Singapore Math program.  I love that it teaches in such a logical progression.  When it came time for the dreaded word problems, she breezed right through them."   ~ Caprock Parent

"I didn't understand Singapore Math, until I attended one of the school sponsored workshops for parents.  I sure didn't learn math this way, but am so happy to see that my children are gaining such great number sense and critical thinking skills.  I really believe that they will have the necessary tools to be successful when the begin higher math"  ~ Caprock Parent

If you have questions about Singapore Math, how it can help your child or how it aligns with State of Colorado Standards, please contact the school. 


Core Virtues 

Core Virtues is surprisingly easy for schools, teachers, and parents to implement.  It does not require elaborate teacher training or contrived pedagogical techniques.  It requires instead the introduction of an age-appropriate definition for each virtue and the reading of quality children’s literature.  At Caprock, we weave Core Virtues into as many classes as possible and strive to help students grasp the importance of these virtues in their daily life.


Character Education

Character education is an educational movement that supports the social, emotional and ethical development of students. It is the proactive effort  to help students develop important core ethical (recognizing what’s right) and performance (doing what’s right) values such as caring, honesty, diligence, fairness, fortitude, responsibility, grit, creativity, critical thinking, and respect for self and others. Character education provides long-term solutions to moral, ethical, and academic issues that are of growing concern in our society and our schools. Through character education, students learn how to be the best citizens they can be and how to do their best work while making school a place where students and educators feel comfortable and able to work.