Classical Writing Models

The Models

It seems to me, firstly, that what a man seeks through his education is to get to know himself and the world; next, that for this knowledge it is before all things necessary that he acquaint himself with the best that has been thought and said in the world; finally, that of this (best), the classics of Greece and Rome form a very chief portion and the portion most entirely satisfactory. ~ Matthew Arnold

When we speak of a "model" in the Classical Writing curriculum, we are referring to a paragraph or two of excellent writing: a paragraph worthy of analysis and imitation for content, arrangement, and style.

Content is vital in a classical education. What could be more important than what we read, let our minds dwell on, and write about? Only the best models from literature, religion, history, and science are used in Classical Writing. The student analyzes, imitates, and practices writing, all the while living and breathing the thoughts and words of the best writers.

Foundational Books

Aesop’s fables, Bible stories, historical legends, fairy tales, factual historical accounts, and short narratives on science topics are among our standard models for Aesop and Homer.

Children’s imaginations come to life with tales of bold knights, magic castles, giants, and evil wizards. These tales have well-defined plots containing good or evil characters and instill morality in children by engaging both their minds and their hearts without preaching at them. Four forms of traditional tales are fables, folk tales, myths, and legends. These tales have been told and retold for countless generations.

Intermediate and Advanced Books

The models we use in Diogenes, Herodotus, Plutarch, Demosthenes, and Shakespeare are from classical literature and great books. Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare are among our authors for literature. In the realm of philosophy, religion, and theology, we chose sages such as St. Augustine of Hippo, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Benjamin Franklin, and C. S. Lewis.

Each selection is chosen to challenge the student to think and write better, as well as to increase the student’s vocabulary and his ability to read short passages of more difficult texts.

A passage is challenging for a student if:

If for a specific model all of the above is true, most students will become discouraged. In our choice of models the passage is usually short, and either the topic is simple or the vocabulary not so difficult. We aim for passages where no more than two of the above three points are true.

It is vital to steep students in challenging literary language for the training of the ear. For example, the more you read Shakespeare or watch his plays, the easier it is to understand him. Students who have watched Shakespeare plays from an early age are able to understand most Shakespeare dialogue with relative ease. However, students to whom the language is unfamiliar will struggle to understand him.

The same is true for the writings of the ancient Greeks and Roman, the church fathers, and the 18th and 19th century writers. All students, and especially those who are college-bound, need to be in tune with the more sophisticated language of the Great Books, and Classical Writing seeks to provide this by analysis of short but challenging models. Our goal at this level is to give students the skills to decipher the meaning of one or two short paragraphs in a language arts session each day, even if reading the whole book would be a daunting task for them.

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