Before our first homeschool mom's-night-out of the new school year, when I thought of "classical education," I thought of stuffy classrooms plaguing young minds with Latin and Greek. Narrow-minded of me, I know, but that was really my impression.
My horizons were broadened at the meeting by a grandmother who had accompanied one the the moms. She had taught science in the public school system for 20 years, and had been turned on to the classical method of teaching after doing some research. Here is a sum-up of her quick overview of the philosophy of classical education...
Classes are comprised of children of all ages. Older kids help younger kids learn. The young children are exposed to ideas and concepts that they won't understand, but those concepts will be revisited year after year, and their understanding will increase with time. The older kids get to review what they've already learned as they help with teaching the younger ones.
When children are young (under 6th grade), they have a great capacity for memorizing. Cram information into their heads, even though they don't understand it. Have them memorize all kinds of things from poetry to multiplication tables to the classification of animals, to the periodic table. (This teacher taught primarily elementary and middle school science. She made up little songs about all kinds of science facts and lists that her students were not ready to understand. Most were able to sing along with her after hearing the song and reading the lyrics just a handful of times. Years later, 10th and 11th graders would stop by and tell her they were still using her songs.)
In the middle school years, when kids become argumentative and challenging, instead of cramming facts into them, the method of teaching becomes debate. They learn to defend their logic and argue a case. They get to develop the little lawyers inside themselves.
In the high school years, as kids are wanting to distinguish themselves, research and presentation become the means of education.
It seems there is a lot of room to apply and mesh these principles with other philosophies of education. While I still cringe at the thought of teaching/learning Latin and/or Greek (wouldn't Spanish or even Mandarin be more practical?), I like this teacher's overall interpretation: cram, debate, and research/teach.