Founders Curriculum & Core Knowledge

Education reflects primary assumptions about the nature of man—the way in which a society understands “humanity” determines the type of education it provides to its children. From the time of the ancient Greeks to modernity, education has been described by great thinkers as a noble enterprise worthy of a free people—a human is a rational and creative person whose education should be approached with dignity and gravity. This human being, in the historical conception of things, has a fixed nature. As history has shown and as we know from our own experiences, he has both an innate desire to know and a spirit of inquiry. He also has the propensity to act in virtuous ways and to succumb to vice. Humans, no matter how good, are imperfect and need direction, boundaries and solid guiding hands. For these reasons, we at Founders believe in a traditional classical experience led by knowledgeable and virtue-seeking teachers, not mere guides on the side who view truth, beauty, and goodness as relative. Our teachers inform, impart knowledge, and promote and model virtue.

With this in mind, the classical school seeks to form the human being, first and foremost to ennoble his heart and mind, to build knowledge in a well-rounded way, to advance understanding, and to promote wisdom. These are the fruits of an education fitting for a free human being, a citizen, hence the historical name for the kind of education we support, a “liberal” education (Latin = liberalis or liber, of freedom or free).

Cutting against the grain of many contemporary schools, Founders provides an education that is “knowledge-rich.” We believe all learning is built upon previous learning (in line with ancient practice and the findings of modern cognitive science) and that students need a strong knowledge foundation in order to move more effectively into higher order thinking and activity (minds-on learning). Learning must build in a hierarchical way. With an image of The Parthenon in mind (see below), the temple foundation symbolizes the grammar level instruction students receive in the early years, or during the initial stages of learning concepts (no matter the grade). The columns represent the more dialectical instruction students receive in the middle grades—more logical and systematic discussion of complex topics requires a solid base of knowledge just as a more elaborate series of columns need a temple foundation to stand. Finally, the ornate frieze and pediment at the top of the temple symbolize the rhetorical mode of learning that should take place at the high school level, the apex. In order to engage in advanced rhetoric, students need both knowledge and systematic rationality (logic) to complement the rhetorical forms they learn in high school.

The Core Knowledge (CK) curriculum we use at Founders in grades K-8 provides students with the basic “grammar,” or foundational knowledge, they need in the various subject areas (the grammar of the English Language, the grammar of history, the grammar of mathematics, the grammar of science, the grammar of fine arts, etc.). It systematically builds knowledge year by year so students are ready for more complex learning in the middle grades and especially in the high school years. The history and geography content beginning in the kindergarten year is instructive. By looking at our curriculum you will notice students at Founders learn actual history and geography from the start, content builds each year, and it is repeated again in a deeper way in later grades.

One of the things Core Knowledge does, in addition to providing students with a knowledge-rich experience, is to build what is known as “cultural literacy” (the two actually go hand-in hand). Cultural literacy refers to the common body of knowledge all Americans should have in history, literature, math, science, and in the fine arts in order to promote overall literacy, citizenship, and societal cohesion. There are certain things people living in The United States have learned for generations and should still know now in the 21st century. Here are a few examples of the kinds of things one should have knowledge of because they are commonly alluded to in print and film. If you read a novel or magazine article, or watch a film, and read or hear that someone is a scrooge, that a person was given a Trojan Horse as a gift, or that something is as old as Methuselah, it should make sense. Writers assume you know these things. It goes without saying that we should all know very well the fundamentals of our system of government, principles of self-government, and rights and responsibilities we have as citizens. These and many other topics are given attention in the Core Knowledge curriculum and are an essential part of our “cultural literacy.”

As good as the Core Knowledge (CK) curriculum is, it does not provide everything we need at a classical school. For this reason, we enhance CK with instruction in Greek and Latin root words in grades 3-6. We have students read more classical literature than CK recommends in its scope and sequence, and in the middle school years, students at Founders begin taking Latin and Logic courses. In some areas CK recommends content but does not provide or suggest teaching resources—our Riggs phonics/spelling/writing program, and Singapore Math curriculum are two examples of resources that fit this bill. There is also the question of state standards. There are some grade levels where we teach both CK content and content required by state standards because they do not necessarily align in particular grade levels.

Core Knowledge is a curriculum sequence for grades K-8. In essence, it provides the grammar of all the subject areas that prepare students for advanced learning in high school. The high school years feature a rigorous liberal arts and sciences curriculum. Students learn content in a more in-depth manner, and the focus is more coordinated to Western Civilization. In the humanities, priority is given to original sources and great books. Math and science offer rigorous training in fundamentals and theories in these disciplines including both logical methods of inquiry and the scientific method. Fine Arts are promoted from the start with CK and continue through high school with both in school and extra-curricular opportunities in art, chorus, orchestra, and theatre. To learn more about our high school curriculum, go here.

Jason Caros, Headmaster