Teaching the Trivium – Chapter 4




This post continues the discussion of Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn along with the Classical Mamas Read group led by Amy at Living and Learning at Home.

 Chapter 4 – What is the Trivium?

While I have yet to read The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers, it is interesting to me that what we see today as an educational crisis was recognized well over 50 years ago. In her essay Dorothy Sayers pointed out that students are taught a lot more subjects today but lack the ability to think or learn on their own.  She proposed that the solution was a return to classical education – the trivium.

The trivium is defined by the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  What Dorothy Sayers points out is that every subject has a grammar stage (knowledge of basic facts), logic stage (understanding of the relationship between facts), and rhetoric stage (wisdom in applying and verbally expressing what is understood). So, every subject can be taught using the trivium as a guide. The problem is that modern education is so totally focused on outcome-based education and assessment that nobody really moves much beyond the grammar stage.  Sadly, we even see this at the university level where far too many students lack the ability to move beyond the memorization of a fact or single problem.  If you change the situation or problem in even a simple way, they don’t understand the relationship between the facts (the logic stage) well enough to adapt.

The authors make this point even more clear by introducing the first college entrance requirements in the United States.  Entry into Harvard in 1643 required that the student demonstrate proficiency in Latin and Greek as well as an understanding of classical literature. Graduation from Harvard required intense coursework in Greek and Hebrew, logic and rhetoric, and math and science.  Graduates were not lacking in knowledge of any area and had the ability to teach themselves anything that was specific to their chosen careers.

So, are you convinced that the solution to the educational crisis is classical education? Are you humbled and not sure how to begin your own education revolution? The Bluedorns suggest that we are parents start with ourselves.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  We can start with ourselves, and the Bluedorns suggest a number of ways to break our own bad habits.  A few that particularly struck me were:

1. Kicking the entertainment habit. What do you do when you get a few free moments? Do you plop down in front of the TV or hop on Facebook?  What message is that sending your children?  While I have to say that I personally don’t think I do too badly with this one myself, I know that I too often allow my children to be playing Minecraft or watching Minecraft videos.  I need to do better at finding the energy required to disengage them from those sources of entertainment.

2. Start reading. Having switched from TV to reading as a source of entertainment, I have to tell you that it is a lot more fulfilling.  It is also helping to make the kids want to get in bed early at night to spend extra time reading.

3. Ask the Lord to give you an inquiring mind. You know what?  It is my job to research and learn new things, but homeschooling has opened my mind to learning a lot that I missed the first time around or just reminding me of things I loved learning along the way.  There is much joy to be gained from the educational journey, and we are never too old.

4. Build vocabulary and have discussions with your children. We really never talked in baby talk to our children and always try to engage them in conversation at their level.  Don’t try to dumb anything down for them.  Just think about how to explain it in terms and ideas that are age-appropriate.  I don’t believe in giving them incorrect information but age-appropriate information.   



2 thoughts on “Teaching the Trivium – Chapter 4

  1. Great insights on the chapter! I, too, thought it was so interesting about prior college entrance requirements. We have fallen so far…which is funny because people think that we are so advanced. Thanks for linking this up to Trivium Tuesdays! I’ll be sharing it on social media for sure!

    • Thanks, Amy. I agree that people would probably be pretty shocked to realize just how different today’s university standards are compared to those of the past. Teaching back then must have been a dream! 🙂

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