Classical? Constructivist? Core Knowledge? or Confused?

About three years ago, my family was talking about the classical education model and the three stages of the trivium - grammar, logic and rhetoric.  LittleJack was in high school taking a few college classes at the time.  After listening to the conversation, he said, "Wait - this sounds a lot like what Piaget said.  I'm pretty sure separating the child into those stages has been debunked."  He brought over his Psychology book by David G. Myers showed us that Piaget had concluded that  children progress through four rigid stages of development.. Then he read the following quotes:

"Researchers believe Piaget and his followers underestimated young children's competence." p. 182

"However, today's researchers see development as more continuous than did Piaget." p. 186*

I've always enjoyed looking at different education models to see what is true or not true. (Yes, I do believe in absolute truth.)  That discussion with Jack was fun for me as he pointed out a short coming of the classical model that I knew (children developing in specific, defined categories) yet hadn't seen much outside evidence to refute it.  Last week at the CLUSA conference, we talked about this very thing.

I attended a session titled "Mason Curriculum Compared to Classical Schools, Core Knowledge, Constructivist and Standards Based Curricula."  It was only an hour and a half, so we didn't get very far. We were able to hear about "What are the basic principles?" and "How do they inform the curriculum?" in regards to the Classical, Constructivist (current prevailing view), Core Knowledge (E.D. Hirsch) and Mason models.

For those of us who have been comparing/contrasting Mason with other methods for years, it keeps boiling down to a few distinctives.  Mason began with Scripture, saw the child as an image bearer and developed her method out of that - not Greco-Roman thought but a Judeo Christian base.  This difference should give us pause.  Also, that child or image bearer, is a person and should be taught and treated as one - not as a bucket, sponge or blank slate.  There were commonalities, too, mostly in the area of content.

Hopefully, next year we will be able to go deeper and further with this discussion.  Meanwhile, I will continue to discuss and research different models while continuing to apply Mason's methods in my homeschool as I believe they most reflect truth.  And around here, they've stood the test of time and scrutiny.

*Piaget did get many things right and this blog post in no way tries to explain his theories or the classical model, for that matter.  Soon, I will write a few posts with the specific answers to those questions mentioned above.


  1. Nancy...this is just an appetizer...how can you leave me like this? LOL
    You know, though I haven't seen all the advantages of CM in my home, I have no DOUBT that her method is the one that reflects the learning process in the most comprehensive way possible.
    I can't deny I like 'some' of the things that classical proponents defend, but the core of the program has never enticed my mind because I think it is dependable of a different view of children, and too tied to an era and a view of man too I don't support. Even neo classic proponents don't quite cut it for me in many areas, and the good principles are those in which they declare themselves in harmony with CM (not surprising!!:))
    You need to expand on this, I confess I have no idea of constructivism or Hirsh either, I need to continue learning.
    Thanks for your post.

  2. Silvia,
    I promise I'm working on it! Thanks for your thoughtful comments - I can depend on you for that!

  3. Aha! I just felt for reading a bit about these different approaches, the standard base I know it, (I'm an ex public school teacher). Such a reductionist view of knowledge, very much in tune with the 'schooling of society' problem where quantifiable goals, diplomas, and superficial memorization of info that you can show you have in tests is the external and pathetic force that drives education.
    The other two currents, core knowledge and constructivism seem to me postmodern. They negate a truth, and core knowledge looks to me as a dangerous form of social control. As for constructivism seems to me to be the idea behind unschoolers and their idea of linking what they learn to what they want, feel, or others tell them they need to grasp to 'do this' or 'be there'. I do not think the learner and the master (or facilitator as they call it) are, as they propose, at the same level. Yes, children are persons, but they are not masters, they need to LEARN, they don't create knowledge with us, 'their buddies'. Learning is not created product. It has also postmodern ramifications that present a relative view of things, and again, a potentially dangerous system of arranging things by importance that doesn't steam from something bigger than man.
    Then classical, like Piaget, make compartments the individual doesn't have, or not in that sequence. I've never liked their view of the child early days, and their pursue of the trivium and learning from the 'classics', is different as CM's proposal of learning from whole or living books. They promote intellectualism, and in the past they were the erudite class that learned latin and greek and who were opposed to other social classes to "access" knowledge.
    This is just a very presumptuous comment made with reading the Wikipedia definition of the core knowledge and constructivism. I know a little bit about classic, and just a bit about CM, but I know enough I believe to declare, that CM as you say is the one that most reflects the TRUTH. And also, as you say, there are, as always, some valuable things in these other proposals or currents, but the whole guiding force in them is flawed. No wonder that there is a whole world of curriculum out there I don't like, and I always end going back to AO with a few tweaks.
    You see, YOU HAVE TO WRITE MORE, I read the conference title and synopsis, and I wish I HAD BEEN THERE!
    This is such a fundamental topic...but I trust you'll write more...I understand you have much to do and can devote only some time to explain the theory behind, but as a mom who has seen these things develop and happen under her eyes, we'll be most grateful if you shared anything when possible.

  4. Great post. I love CM, but haven't really delved into other teaching philosophies. I look forward to reading more. :)