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For information on literature based education: Carole Joy Seid

What is Classical Education? by Susan Wise Bauer

Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.

The first years of schooling are called the “grammar stage” - not because you spend four years doing English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid, just as grammar is the foundation for language. In the elementary school years - what we commonly think of as grades one through four - the mind is ready to absorb information. Children at this age actually find memorization fun. So during this period, education involves not self-expression and self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts. Rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics - the list goes on. This information makes up the “grammar,” or the basic building blocks, for the second stage of education.

By fifth grade, a child’s mind begins to think more analytically. Middle-school students are less interested in finding out facts than in asking “Why?” The second phase of the classical education, the “Logic Stage,” is a time when the child begins to pay attention to cause and effect, to the relationships between different fields of knowledge relate, to the way facts fit together into a logical framework.

A student is ready for the Logic Stage when the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature. During these years, the student begins algebra and the study of logic, and begins to apply logic to all academic subjects. The logic of writing, for example, includes paragraph construction and learning to support a thesis; the logic of reading involves the criticism and analysis of texts, not simple absorption of information; the logic of history demands that the student find out why the War of 1812 was fought, rather than simply reading its story; the logic of science requires that the child learn the scientific method.

The final phase of a classical education, the “Rhetoric Stage,” builds on the first two. At this point, the high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in middle school to the foundational information learned in the early grades and expresses his conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant language. Students also begin to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts them; these are the years for art camps, college courses, foreign travel, apprenticeships, and other forms of specialized training.

Click here for the entire excellent article from The Well-Trained Mind

A Work in Progress: The Teen Brain

by Debra Bradley Ruder September-October 2008

Human and animal studies, Jensen and Urion note, have shown that the brain grows and changes continually in young people—and that it is only about 80 percent developed in adolescents. The largest part, the cortex, is divided into lobes that mature from back to front. The last section to connect is the frontal lobe, responsible for cognitive processes such as reasoning, planning, and judgment. Normally this mental merger is not completed until somewhere between ages 25 and 30-much later than these two neurologists were taught in medical school.

There are also gender differences in brain development. As Urion and Jensen explain, the part of our brain that processes information expands during childhood and then begins to thin, peaking in girls at roughly 12 to 14 years old and in boys about two years later. This suggests that girls and boys may be ready to absorb challenging material at different stages, and that schools may be missing opportunities to reach them.

Meanwhile, the neural networks that help brain cells (neurons) communicate through chemical signals are enlarging in teen brains. Learning takes place at the synapses between neurons, as cells excite or inhibit one another and develop more robust synapses with repeated stimulation. This cellular excitement, or “long-term potentiation,” enables children and teenagers to learn languages or musical instruments more easily than adults.

Connections among Brain Cells

At birth, the human brain is in a remarkably unfinished state. Most of its 100 billion neurons are not yet connected in networks. Forming and reinforcing these connections are the key tasks of early brain development. Connections among neurons are formed as the growing child experiences the surrounding world and forms attachments to parents, family members and other caregivers.

In the first decade of life, a child’s brain forms trillions of connections or synapses. Axons connect to dendrites, and chemicals called neurotransmitters help send messages (called “impulses”) across the resulting synapses. Each individual neuron may be connected to as many as 15,000 other neurons, forming a network of neural pathways that is immensely complex. This elaborate network is sometimes referred to as the brain’s “wiring” or “circuitry.” As the neurons mature, more and more synapses are made. At birth, the number of synapses per neuron is 2,500, but by age two or three, it’s about 15,000 synapses per neuron. This is like going from 100 to 600 friends on Facebook, and each of those friends in turn, is connected to 600 more people! The neural network expands exponentially. If they are not used repeatedly, or often enough, they are eliminated. In this way, experience plays a crucial role in “wiring” a young child’s brain. Brain development does not stop after early childhood, but it is the foundation upon which the brain continues developing. Early childhood is the time to build either a strong and supportive, or fragile and unreliable foundation. These early years are very important in the development that continues in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Sources: Shonkoff, J.P., & Phillips, D.A. (Eds). (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development National Academies’ Press. Retrieved from

Shore, R. (1997). Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development. New York, NY: Families and Work Institute, pp. 16-17.

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