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Classical Education at ACE
An interdisciplinary academic method for modern times

ACE employs the classical method which matches technique and subject matter to a child’s developmental phases. This is a language- and history-intensive approach to learning that uses a three-part process of training the mind known as the trivium: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric stages.

The Trivium

The Trivium is the basis of ACE’s classical model; it represents stages of development, our academic divisions, and the process of learning.

Grammar Stage: Grades 1-4

In the “Grammar Stage,” (grades 1-4), the building blocks, or grammar, of each subject is taught. The mind is ready to absorb information, thus students will memorize basic facts: rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, math facts, states and capitals, systems of the human body, presidents, famous poems, and more.

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. This information makes up the "grammar," or the basic building blocks, for the second stage of education.

Grammar-level students at work.

Grammar-level students at work.

A Dialectic-level student works on a chemistry lab.

Dialectic Stage: Grades 5-8

By fifth grade, students begin to think abstractly and analytically. Middle school students are less interested in learning facts than in asking “why?” The second phase of the classical education, the “Dialectic Stage,” is a time when the child begins to pay attention to cause and effect, the relationships between different fields of knowledge, and the way facts fit together into a logical framework. the formal study of logic comprise the “Dialectic Stage” (grades 5-8) of the classical approach.


In the Dialectic Stage, 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.

A Dialectic-level student making observations in a chemistry lab.

Rhetoric Stage: Grades 9-12

The final phase of a classical education, the “Rhetoric Stage” (grades 9-12), is the culmination of the first two stages. Students learn to write and speak with force and originality drawing from their knowledge of facts and the analysis of techniques previously mastered. 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.

ACE Rhetoric students

ACE Rhetoric students.

Four-Year Pattern

We suggest that the twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times. The child studies these four time periods at varying levels -- simple for grades 1-4, more difficult in grades 5-8 (when the student begins to read original sources), and taking an even more complex approach in grades 9-12, when the student works through these time periods using original sources, and also has the opportunity to pursue a particular interest (music, dance, technology, medicine, biology, creative writing) in depth.

Interdisciplinary Curriculum

The other subject areas of the curriculum are linked to history studies. The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, the tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, Chinese and Japanese fairy tales, and (for the older student) the classical texts of Plato, Herodutus, Virgil, Aristotle. She'll read Beowulf, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare the following year, when she's studying medieval and early Renaissance history. When the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are studied, she starts with Swift (Gulliver's Travels) and ends with Dickens; finally, she reads modern literature as she is studying modern history.

Latin for All

All students take Latin, highlighting a literature and culture that shaped modernity, offering the benefits of language study across time and geography and providing opportunities for systematic practice of academic and life skills. The well-kept secret: it’s also fascinating and fun!

A Systematic Approach

The classical education is, above all, systematic -- in direct contrast to the scattered, unorganized nature of so much secondary education. This systematic, rigorous study has two purposes.


Rigorous study develops virtue in the student. Aristotle defined virtue as the ability to act in accordance to what one knows to be right. The virtuous man (or woman) can force himself to do what he knows to be right, even when it runs against his inclinations. The classical education continually asks a student to work against his baser inclinations (laziness, or the desire to watch another half hour of TV) in order to reach a goal -- mastery of a subject.

Systematic study also allows the student to join what Mortimer Adler calls the "Great Conversation" -- the ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages. Much modern education is so eclectic that the student has little opportunity to make connections between past events and the flood of current information. "The beauty of the classical curriculum," writes classical schoolmaster David Hicks, "is that it dwells on one problem, one author, or one epoch long enough to allow even the youngest student a chance to exercise his mind in a scholarly way: to make connections and to trace developments, lines of reasoning, patterns of action, recurring symbolisms, plots, and motifs."

ACE students at Character Assembly

ACE students and faculty at Character Assembly.

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