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Dominion Blog

What is the Trivium?

Posted by Matt Mitchell on Oct 7, 2021 1:40:32 PM

Classical Education - Defining the Trivium

Until the progressive educational reforms of the late 1800s and early 1900s, classical education was the prevailing form of education. It was the education of our forefathers as well as most significant thinkers and philosophers throughout human history.

 

In contrast to progressive education, which often relies upon edited textbooks, classical schooling celebrates primary sources and firsthand opinions. It urges children to read the original documents, books, and letters, rather than what someone else has said about them. Likewise, rather than preparing students to be cogs in a social machine, classical schooling elevates the place of wisdom, formation, good thinking, and virtuous living. On average, classically schooled students score approximately 358 points above the national average on the high school SAT, and Dominion’s students score about 390 points above the national average. 

 

Historically, classical schools have taught the Trivium, but it is common for families to ask, “What is that?!” The Latin word trivium means “where three roads meet.” It is the meeting place of three roads of learning - grammar (gathering knowledge and information), logic (forming arguments with said knowledge and information), and rhetoric (processing knowledge, information, and arguments so that the student may develop winsome and persuasive written and oral communication).

 

In the 1940s, Dorothy Sayers wrote what became the seminal essay of today's classical education movement, The Lost Tools of Learning. In the midst of progressive educational reforms, she noted that schools were abandoning a great deal in terms of both content and pedagogy. She called for the resurrection of teaching grammar, logic, and rhetoric as distinct subjects. She also suggested that those three subjects provide a helpful analogy for thinking about how students learn.  While they are young, in the grammar stage (approximately grades K-6), she argued, students should focus upon the “pieces” of learning while they love to memorize and take pride in it. As such, classical grammar schools are rich in knowledge. You’ll notice songs, chants, and repetition are utilized to ensure students obtain a broad informational knowledge. 

 

By the time students reach what Sayers referred to as the logic stage (approximately grades 7-9), students have already obtained the “building blocks of learning,” and they are more interested in using what they have learned to engage in debate and argumentation. She suggested that students at this age should be urged to think deeply about the “why?” of their studies, making a complete whole out of the bits of information they learned in the grammar school. This is also an important time for their faith, as they are questioning and deciding who they want to be as young Christians. 

 

By the time students reach the rhetoric stage (roughly grades 10-12), they are offered an emphasis upon expression, both oral and written, of the knowledge they have assembled and the ideas they have encountered. They leave a K-12 classical school education with the ability to think well, speak winsomely, and live wisely.

 

For millennia, the Trivium has served as an important base for learning - as distinct subjects that have allowed children to learn knowledge, truth, and wisdom (our tagline). Historically, the Trivium has referred to subjects that should be taught in a liberal arts curriculum. Sayers’ suggestion that those three subjects also align nicely with the developmental stages of children is a newer idea, but it is a helpful analogy for learning. All three “stages” of a classical education include instruction in all three areas, but there is no question that a grammar student can memorize information more easily than a rhetoric student. Likewise, anyone who has a middle school student will tell you that their young teens love to argue. Dominion simply teaches those middle school students to argue more winsomely and effectively!

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