Classical Framework

Classical education

In its embrace of the trivium, its emphasis on the classics, and its study of Latin, The Wilberforce School represents classical education. NJ students can receive a truly unique and comprehensive learning experience with our traditional educational framework.

Distinguished among other private schools in New Jersey and throughout the United States, The Wilberforce School of Princeton challenges its students through classical education. NJ parents and students can contact us for further information on curricula, pedagogical practices, educational resources, and teaching philosophies.

The Trivium

The trivium (Latin for “three ways”) is the core of a classical curriculum. It was practiced during Greco-Roman times, formalized in the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and nearly universally embraced by educators in the English-speaking world until the early 20th century. The three roads of the trivium offer three insights for educational practice:

  1. Every discipline has a grammar (that is, a set of rules and vocabulary to explain those rules), a logic (organizing principles and standards for evaluation), and a rhetoric (stories, discourses, responses, and applications).
  2. Any topic can be taught in a way that includes its grammar (what is there - factual knowledge), its logic (major schools of interpretation, scope and sequence, and rationale), and its rhetoric (implications).
  3. The trivium affirms the developmental nature of learners – that is, children develop in stages, and good teachers should tailor their pedagogy to each stage. Trivium-based education “organizes learning around the maturing capacity of a child’s mind” by using teaching methods and materials specific to each stage of development (Wise Bauer, The Well-Trained Mind, p. 3).

The Grammar Stage

Young children have a natural fondness for memorization and repetition. During this stage, children learn the facts or grammar of each subject through drills, songs, and rhymes. At Wilberforce, we see this as a unique time in a child’s life not only to master the rules of reading, writing, and math, but also to memorize scripture, poetry, and hymns. What distinguishes our approach from most classical schools is the combination of typical classical methods with those pioneered by Charlotte Mason. We use both self-discovery tools and memorization. We emphasize the importance of imaginative play and outdoor play in combination with desk work. We seek to engage the imagination as well as train the mind.

The Logic Stage

In the middle grades, children’s capacity for abstract thought expands rapidly. At this stage, they become attracted to argumentation and abstract ideas. The introduction of formal logic shifts the focus from mere facts to understanding relationships. Students learn to reason as they identify critical assumptions, logical fallacies, and inconsistencies. At Wilberforce, we believe this is a significant stage, not only to emphasize logic, but also to lift up the Lord, in whom all reasoning holds together. As Christians, we prize clear and disciplined reasoning as a tool to grasp and communicate truth. We also recognize, however, that mere logic that either denies God or does not acknowledge His activity is futile, as Paul says in the first chapter of Romans (Rom. 1:20-22). Wilberforce seeks to teach logic in an environment in which the gospel of Jesus Christ is fully embraced.

The Rhetoric Stage

Students in the upper grades integrate grammar and logic into creative and persuasive communication. In speech, writing, and debate, students develop clarity and beauty of expression in addressing vital and sometimes controversial issues and philosophies. Rhetoric was the hallmark of William Wilberforce's forty years in the British Parliament. After his conversion to Christianity while a young member of Parliament, Wilberforce realized he had squandered his school years. He determined to cultivate his God-given ability through reading the classics, constant study of scripture, and diligent attendance to the public issues of his day. When fully yielded to God and nurtured as an act of faith, Wilberforce’s oratory had unrivaled persistence, forcefulness, and moral power. God used Wilberforce to bring about one of the turning points of world history – the abolition of the slave trade – as well as to champion countless causes for the moral and spiritual reformation of society. It is our hope that students at The Wilberforce School will be spurred on by his example.

The Classics

We study classic works of art, literature and history, introducing students to the great ideas and debates of the past. At Wilberforce, we define a “classic” as any work that every generation has read, studied, or cared about either because of its beauty and excellence or because of its influence and commentary on life. Included in our definition of classical works are the Bible and the great poetry, hymns, and literature wrought from Christian devotion. At Wilberforce, students memorize and recite these classic works in the grammar years, analyze them in the logic years, and debate them in the rhetoric years. Students develop a strong base of knowledge from history’s great people, thinkers, and writers. They learn to understand the consequences of theories, ideas and actions.


Distinguished among other private schools in New Jersey and throughout the United States, The Wilberforce School of Princeton challenges its students through classical education. Parents and students are welcome to contact us for further information on curricula, pedagogical practices, educational resources, and teaching philosophies.

Latin was regularly taught in American schools through the 1940’s and considered essential to a fundamental understanding of English, history, and the writings of Western civilization. Our students begin their study of Latin in Class Three. At Wilberforce, we believe Latin is still an important tool for several reasons:

  • Study of Latin trains the mind for orderly thinking and expression.
  • Latin builds English vocabulary and increases reading comprehension – 50% of all words in the English language have Latin roots.
  • Latin prepares the mind for the study of other foreign languages. The Romance languages derive their structure and vocabulary largely from Latin. The structure of Teutonic languages also comes from Latin.
  • Learning Latin lays a foundation for future studies in science, medicine, law, and philosophy – disciplines that draw heavily from Latin.
  • Mastery of Latin enables serious students of the classics to enjoy and study those works in their original language.

For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.
- Dorothy Sayers