Aquinas Learning Center

What is Classical education?

History & Principles


First, let’s look at the history of classical education and what happened over the years.  

With the permission of Diane Lockman, from Classical Scholar, I reprinted her articles that speak precisely to this question:

Where did classical education originate, and how has it been adapted over the years?

National leaders on two continents have been successfully trained by the classical method for over two thousand years. The “paideia” of the ancient Greeks referred to the process of forming an enlightened mature mind. Unlike today, the paideia was not concerned with preparing students for jobs; rather, learning led to the mental discipline to discuss abstract ideas like truth, beauty, and justice. Adopting the Greek idea of classical education, the ancient Romans created a system of study called the “seven liberal arts” which were divided into two phases. Beginners mastered the three skills of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) before moving on to the quadrivium. There is evidence in the writings of the Apostle Paul that he received a Jewish adaptation of the classical trivium.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century a.d., classical education as a method of learning appeared to disappear; however, in the 9th century, Emperor Charlemagne revived and Christianized classical education in Europe when he opened the Palace Schools to perfect Christian leaders. Scripture and the writings of early Christian leaders were incorporated into the content. During the late 11th century, loose confederations of teachers and apprentices gathered in what was called the “universitas” to study the seven liberal arts. Students joined the the universitas at 14 or 15 years of age and began mastering the three skills of the classical trivium. Classes were taught in homes or churches. Study centered around great writers and their books, not subjects. By the 13th century, three more liberal arts were added at the graduate level: law, medicine, and theology.

Additional Resources


DEFINING CLASSICAL EDUCATION by Andrew Kern, Circe Institute

CATHOLIC CLASSICAL EDUCATION by Dr. Peter Redpath, Professor of Philosophy, St. John’s University