On my blog debut, I mentioned Dorothy Sayers pithy article, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  I promised to explain in a shorter (but sadly, less pithy) way what classical education is all about.  Here goes! 

In the ancient world and, in a more developed way, in the medieval world, there were 7 disciplines that any scholar studied.  The first three made up the trivium.  They were grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  The last four, known as the quadrivium, were arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.  All seven liberal arts pointed toward the higher disciplines of philosophy and, above all else, theology.

The first three are what interest us now.  Let’s talk about those and what they mean for our children’s education.  Now, grammar didn’t just mean grammar as we think of it.  It meant the learning of categories of knowledge.  That can include anything from the letters of the alphabet to the names of animals to Latin verb conjugations to the periodic table of elements.  This is the first stage, and what is being learned is actually of less importance than the use of the faculty of memory.  According to Laura Berquist in her book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, the time to begin the grammar stage is from about 3rd grade to about 6th grade.  I have come to believe, however, that it starts earlier than that.  The great thing about the classical method is that it takes into account the nature of the child.  Young children are great at memorizing things.  It comes easily to them.  The goal in my mind is to practice that skill on worthwhile subjects (avoiding what Charlotte Mason called “twaddle”) in order to make sure that the ease of memorization of a young child is retained into adulthood.

The next stage of the trivium is the logic or dialectic stage.  When your adolescent child begins arguing about everything, he is ready for the logic stage.  Perhaps a better way to put it is to say that he is in the logic stage.  The classical method takes advantage of the way God put us together.  That happens somewhere between 5th and 7th grade, depending on the child.  Obviously, the young person is still learning stuff at this point, but that is no longer the primary focus in a classical system of education.  Instead, the focus changes from memorizing to taking that knowledge gained and learning to think logically about it.  How?  Well, this can involve logic problems, analogies, computer programming (obviously not part of the medieval curriculum), scientific experiments, and convincing your parents of the value of spending the night at a friend’s house.  It can and should also include writing persuasively.  In order to write persuasively, it is necessary to gain a keen sense of what is true and what is not.  To quote the professor in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, ““Logic! . . . . Why don’t they teach logic at these schools!”

The final stage begins around 10th grade, according to Laura Berquist and others.  This is the rhetoric stage.  You know how teenagers are idealists?  How they want to change the world?  How they want to distinguish themselves in some way?  Well, that is just as it should be, and rhetoric is the skill of talking about that and writing about that (and anything else for that matter) elegantly. 

At this point, the young adult takes the knowledge he has gained, combines it with the ability to come to accurate conclusions through logical thinking, and then finally, he learns to express it in a convincing and beautiful way.

Well, I guess this wasn’t so short after all, but I want to make one final comment.  In today’s world, high school children are being taught rhetoric more or less (composition, speech, etc.), but they aren’t being taught logic.  They learn (at least they are supposed to learn) to write well, but there is no truth behind what they say.  That is incredibly dangerous, but it’s nothing new.  Socrates complained of the “sophists” of his time who did the same thing. 

In the end, the trivium comes down to the good (the grammar of things), the true (logical thinking), and the beautiful (rhetoric).  It is necessary for them to come in that order because the nature of the growing child demands it and because beauty without truth is not true beauty but a distortion of beauty.

Well, I could go on because this is a subject that I dearly love to talk about, but I’ll hop down off my soapbox for tonight.  May God bless you with every good thing!  Please tell me what you think.