The goal of a classical approach to education is to teach students how to learn for themselves by equipping them with the tools of learning.
Early emphasis is placed upon core knowledge and skills, followed by formal instruction in logic and rhetoric while developing clear verbal and written styles of expression in each subject. The 1947 speech “The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers captured this vision and inspired its recovery in the last 25 years.
The teaching of the seven liberal arts (the Trivium and Quadrivium) formed the educational foundation of Western culture until the radical curriculum changes and modern educational theories of the past 75 years. Ad Fontes Academy is committed to recovering the educational method upon which the achievements of Western culture were founded.
The Trivium emphasizes three important sets of skills that have been largely ignored in the last century:
- The “grammar” of each subject: the core knowledge one needs to know about each area of study
- Logical thinking skills: the ability to ask the right questions and draw proper conclusions
- Rhetorical skills: the ability to speak and write clearly, gracefully, and persuasively
While we focus on all these skills throughout their years at Ad Fontes, there are particular stages of students’ development when it is time to teach them formally and more intensively.
In the Lower (Grammar) School, students begin by learning the fundamental facts of each subject…
…and establishing those important links between symbols and concepts in math and reading. Teaching methods which students at this age enjoy, such as singing, drilling, chanting, and recitation are emphasized. In addition to those pedagogical practices, teachers cultivate the tools of thinking through the use of metaphors, categories, and questions which are essential for developing the formative skills of thought and language. The best practices in the past, even at early ages, centered around two methods: dialectic (the asking of purposeful questions) and didactic (providing illustrations, models and types for the students to contemplate).
For example, before the teacher invests time in getting a child to recite or mimic the answer, he or she spends time with the child over questions that lead to those answers. In addition, while the teachers assist students in gaining specific knowledge and help them develop thinking skills, they also help them to see that knowledge in the context of a broader whole. The student should not merely be able to identify the parts of speech, but also appreciate the sentence as a whole – seeing the beauty of language. From Kindergarten– where students learn to make their simple sentences more beautiful by adding descriptive phrases—to 4th and 5th grades where classical composition is taught, students are engaged in learning to write and express themselves well.
In the Middle School at Ad Fontes, students begin to engage in the dialectic method…
…discovering truth by analyzing the reasons for and against a position in a systematic way. Rather than passively receiving facts from a teacher, students are led into conversation with the classical Christian tradition and with one another in order to understand how and why something is true. Students learn to analyze, reason, question, evaluate, and critique accounts of history, natural science, mathematics, and the good life.
In the High School at Ad Fontes, students begin to apply classical rhetorical theory to their written and oral communication.
Having grasped an understanding of how and why things are true, students now endeavor to persuade others using rhetorical techniques that beautifully organize their positions. Students use debate, apologetics, oral presentation, long-form essays, and drama to demonstrate God’s truth. Each student completes, presents, and defends a Senior Thesis which is researched, crafted, and honed over the course of their senior year. All-in-all, students are prepared to pursue deeper study in mathematics, the natural sciences, the humanities, philosophy, and theology.