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By: Lindsey Williams
The idea of classical education has its roots reaching as far back as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. According to Susan Wise Bauer (1999), “Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind,” often referred to as the
. The three stages of the trivium correlate naturally to the growth and intellectual ability of children throughout their learning careers. Grammar, logic or dialectic, and rhetoric stages compose the trivium of classical education.
The grammar, or Poll-Parrott (Sayers, 1947) stage is the earliest of learning taking place in classical education. The time period this covers is approximately the entirety of elementary school, or grammar school as it used to be called. As Bauer (1999) points out, “these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid.” Students in this age range are eager to learn, where learning is mostly memorization of facts and rules. This memorization is fun for most in this age group (Bauer, 1999). While students are not solely focused on grammar as the name may imply, they are focused on learning all the basics, from arithmetic and multiplication, to simple anatomy and history, to spelling and actual grammar. Dorothy Sayers, the main authority on Classical Theory in Education, (1947) states, “anything and everything which can be usefully committed to memory should be memorized at this period, whether it is immediately intelligible or not.” In order to be successful in the following stages of classical education, students must have a firm and solid foundation from the grammar stage.
Around the time students finish elementary and begin middle school, they advance to the logic or dialectic stage. Although this transition comes earlier for some, we can know when students advance to this stage as “soon as the pupil shows himself disposed to pertness and interminable argument,” which is also why this part is also dubbed the pert stage. (Sayers, 1947) On the other hand, “A student is ready for the Logic Stage when the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature.” (Bauer, 1999) Regardless of how we know when a child is ready for this stage, students, at this point, want to know more than just the basic facts; they learned much of the what in the grammar stage. Now, they want to know the who, how, where, and why involved in all of the concepts discussed in school. (Hart, 2006, pg. 79) Generally speaking, the goal is to continue to build students’ knowledge to such a level that they are able to make logical connections from different fields. (Bauer, 1999) Teachers must also guide students to do their own thinking and finding of information in order to logically come to any sort of conclusion. In summary of the first two stages: “In the grammar stage, observation and memorization are critical; in the dialectic stage discursive, or logical reasoning are highly important.” (Hart, 2006, pg. 79)
The final stage, the rhetoric stage, will take what students have learned in the first two stages and continue to build on it. (Bauer, 1999) This is also the time students should be thinking for themselves and be able to express themselves freely. (Sayers, 1947) By this time in their education, students should be able to write and speak clearly while being able to make the point they are attempting to make, in an original fashion. As Sayers (1947) explains, “It is difficult to map out any general syllabus for the study of Rhetoric.” She does later go on to describe that during this time students should be allowed to specialize in an area or two, while still keeping some balance amongst all subjects. However, if a student is extremely talented in English and history, he should be given the freedom to take more classes in these subjects and take fewer math and science courses. Bauer (1999) even states that “Students also begin to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts them; these are the years for art camps, college courses, foreign travel, apprenticeships, and other forms of specialized training.” Sayers would also like high school seniors, as an exit exam, to defend a thesis publicly, almost as graduate and doctoral students now must do in order to graduate. (1947)
The goal of the trivium and classical education is a rigorous education. This process of training the mind is repetitive and language-based. The grammar stage teaches students all the facts and rules of language and other subjects in school; the logic or dialectic stage gives students the ability to connect subjects logically and be able to form logical arguments; lastly, the rhetoric stage builds on the first two and requires students to be able to defend, verbally and in written form, their own ideas. The trivium of classical education was more than enough training during the Middle Ages and some, particularly Sayers, would argue that it is still enough education for life during modern times.
Bauer, Susan Wise (1999).
What is Classical Education?.
Hart, Dr. Randall D. (2006).
Increasing Academic Achievement with the Trivium of Classical Education: Its Historical Development, Decline in the Last Century, and Resurgence in Recent Decades
. Retrieved from
Sayers, Dorothy (1947).
The Lost Tools of Learning
. Retrieved from
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