Our Classical Approach + Philosophy - SLO Classical Academy
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San Luis Obispo Classical Academy San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

SLO classical academy high school

Our classical approach + philosophy

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

– t.s. eliot

SLOCAHS’ unparalleled learning environment crafts a different type of student––one who is knowledgeable and thinks critically with the ability to discern, analyze, problem solve, and effectively communicate his or her own opinions. SLOCAHS students are not only well prepared to succeed in college, but are also imbued with increasingly rare skills and habits required to become leaders and lifelong learners––living fulfilling, valuable and useful lives.

Classical Approach

Classical education has been proven to prepare students exceptionally well for the future, laying solid groundwork for success in college and life, whatever road is chosen. The classical education offered at SLOCAHS encompasses three guiding principles:


… builds on the two prior stages of the Trivium, grammar and logic (grades K-8th), by honing students’ ability to see an issue from many angles and to persuade others to act and think reasonably. The art of persuasion demands not only a grounded understanding of a topic, but also a critical interpretation of it, and finally the ability to effectively communicate one’s well-reasoned judgments, which students practice through oral presentations, class discussions, debates, and essays. This approach guides instruction in every class as students are asked to absorb, evaluate, and then formulate their outlooks on topics that range from fictional characters to scientific theories. In this way, Rhetoric teaches students to be measured, accurate, and prudent in their thinking. Rhetoric, says Aristotle, is the art of fair-mindedness. Further, the Rhetoric stage of the Trivium emphasizes the unity of knowledge, encouraging students to make connections across the curriculum—for example, by exploring the social contexts that gave rise to mathematical and scientific discoveries, or by grappling with the ethical and practical implications of new scientific knowledge.

Great Books

… have been tested by time and have stretched across cultures, generations, and human differences. They are the best of humankind’s literary achievements. Too often schools will settle for books that are deemed easier or more current than the classics, or will teach only from small excerpts or summaries of important works, but frequently these choices entertain for a moment rather than affecting the reader for a lifetime. Classics speak to today’s students as they have throughout the ages. They are timeless, because they are forever timely. Great Books awaken students’ imaginations, help shape their moral character, and provide matchless models of writing. They also equip students for meaningful, challenging conversations and improve their understanding of future reading, since scholarly writing so often converses with the classics. (For example, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, a novel that illuminates so many aspects of our world, is in dialogue with works by Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, and Plato.) We follow a Great Books curriculum because we believe that all true and lasting innovation is rooted in a tradition—only by knowing a tradition well can one meaningfully question and shape it. Rather than merely exhorting students to “achieve their dreams,” Great Books challenge them to dream better dreams.

The Socratic Method

… is a technique developed by Socrates that teaches through questioning, encouraging deep thinking over rote learning. Questions are in-depth and open-ended and thus challenge the student to process information in a way that reaches beyond exposure and memorization to draw out critical thinking. In this way we diverge significantly from most educational institutions, which have trended towards prescribed, formulaic instruction that relies upon testing and filling in the blank. The Socratic Method, on the other hand, trains students how to think independently, engage in dialogue of differing perspectives, grapple with big questions, and communicate effectively. The Socratic method also stresses awareness of the many things we do not know. In this way, Socratic questioning aims at something more than just mastery of a knowledge-base: it aims at self-knowledge. Put another way, the Socratic method is a way of teaching individuals, not just a core curriculum.

In its simplest form, classical education at SLOCAHS means that we teach from Great Books using the Socratic Method with the aim of grounding students in the Rhetoric Stage of the Trivium.

Program Courses

At SLOCAHS classes are held university-style. Students attend classes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, leaving Tuesday and Thursday open to complete assignments at their own pace. This flexible schedule frees students to explore areas of interest, and the independent work encourages them to become self-directed in their learning as they learn first-hand how to manage their time, study independently, and for those heading to college, adapt to a college-style schedule.

Students now have the option to enroll in our 5-Day program.  A variation on our university style, this structure means students attend classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but come to campus on Tuesday and Thursday to work with teachers and other students, as well as take art, study skills, or physical education classes.

Our history and literature courses are really two approaches to the same subject matter. Because students study the same time periods at the same pace, they are able to make connections between the literature they are reading and the history they are studying for an integrated, meaningful, and extensive study of each time period. This comprehensive approach includes history textbooks, primary source documents (diaries, speeches, letters, autobiographies, and articles), and literature from period authors (poems, plays, stories, essays, and novels). Students internalize their learning and sharpen their academic skills through frequent Socratic discussions, written responses, essays, creative grammar exercises, debates, and speeches. Students leave these courses with a broad and deep knowledge and appreciation of the period history, geography, government and literature, and strengthened reading, writing, thinking, and public speaking skills.

Our innovative math courses will expose students to the world of mathematical puzzles and applications, which will develop their ability for abstract thought as well as their aptitude for solving real-world problems. In these courses students will learn how to read standard and non-standard word problems, identify any missing information within them, and develop an approach toward a solution. Students will be able to write with mathematical precision and recognize certain mathematical tricks, tools and techniques that are often helpful to tackle problems where a solution is not quickly seen.

Building on a strong foundation of key concepts, students in our science courses become proficient at scientific investigation, increase their powers of observation, and develop accuracy in their thought and work. Regular hands-on demonstrations and laboratories engage student interest and reveal the wonder in the world and universe around them. In keeping with the focus of the Classical Academy, pupils also study the importance of science in the development of civilization, as well as practical implementations in daily life.

In our Latin program, students better understand their own English language, as its vocabulary and grammar are based on those of Latin. Students also discover a whole world of archaeology, history, mythology, religion, and culture. Through understanding the Romans better, students gain an appreciation of their own history, law, government, and literature. Though Latin is no longer a “living” language, it continues to play a role in vocabulary specific to science and law. Perhaps most significantly, it serves almost as a “laboratory language” which is very precise in its expression and consistent in its rules. The hard work students put into learning Latin brings rewards such as an expanded vocabulary, which may lead to higher verbal SAT scores; a foundation for learning a modern language, which will make learning other foreign languages easier; and honed critical thinking skills that will benefit them in whatever subjects they may study. For as students’ understanding of the workings of language increases, so does their ability to think, speak, and write effectively.

Much of what was said above about our Latin program can also be said about our vibrant Spanish program, offered for those students interested in studying a modern language. 

Classical education addresses the whole person. Electives help develop individual areas of interest while also stimulating new pursuits, opening pathways that nurture a lifelong love of learning. Our Art courses are a prime example of this meaningful enrichment as students learn to appreciate the skill and beauty in visual art as they have in prose. In Beyond SLOCA, a life skills course, seniors learn how to practically prepare for life after high school, practicing the basics of personal finance and investing, business etiquette, career management, taxes, meal planning, and even how to change a tire. Other electives include Creative Writing, Film Studies, Coding & Computer Science, Zoology, and Food to name just a few! Find the complete list of our electives here!

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