by Harvey Bluedorn. Copyright 1999. All rights reserved.
The trivium model for child development may be explained in computer terms. Children are:
• “Booting up” at the Pre-Grammar level (birth through ~9).
• “Keying in” the information at the Grammar level (~10 through 12).
• “Processing” at the Logic level (~13 through 15).
• “Printing out” at the Rhetoric level (~16 through 18).
From about age 16, children are quickly advancing toward adulthood. Following the analogy of the classical trivium, we call this the rhetoric level. There are academic subjects which are commonly studied at this level, but in this article we will also include some considerations in preparing students for mature adulthood considerations which are not necessarily academic. Remember, we’re not trying to reconstruct classical education the way the ancient Greeks and Romans did it. We don’t emphasize the classical subjects and literature so much as we emphasize the classical model and method. We’re trying to apply, in practical ways, and to all areas of life, those pressed and proven principles which were expressed however imperfectly in ancient classical education. The goal of a classical liberal arts education was to give the student the basic skills or tools with which to educate himself. But academic education isn’t sufficient. In order to fill this out and balance it, we need to add the three goals pursued in a classical Hebrew education: 1) teaching your children the Word of God, 2) preparing them for marriage, and 3) training them for a practical trade and for managing their household.
The rhetoric level is the most creative level. What we offer in this article is merely a starting point a working model which each family will expand and adapt to fit its particular needs, interests, strengths, and weaknesses.
The rhetoric level takes the facts and theories and begins to apply them. Teaching will advance from the coaching and correcting level to the coaxing and directing level. You’ll be asking questions, leading discussions, and encouraging individual initiative and innovation.
Language: Just because your child is long past the grammar level does not mean he must set aside the study of language. The skills of grammar will apply to everything he does. Unless the student plans on regular encounters with a modern foreign language, the study of ancient Latin and Greek will prove much more useful than the study of, for example, modern French, Spanish or German. Latin will prepare the student for professional terminology, for understanding many English words, and will serve well as a platform to learn any Romance language. Greek, of course, will prepare the student to study the Bible. If there is time for only one language, then we suggest Biblical Greek may prove the most profitable. If two languages, then Latin first and add Greek later.
Logic: Just because your child has passed from the logic to the rhetoric level does not mean logic must be set aside. The principles of logic apply to absolutely everything. The more he studies logic, the clearer it will become to him, and the more adept he will become at applying it to all of his studies. See our booklet Learning Logic at Home for specific recommendations.
Math: Age 16 Advanced Math. Age 17-18 Calculus, Computer Science, Accounting, or Engineering (depending upon occupational goals). You may choose to drop math at age 17 to make room for other important studies.
Science: The student may study a regular high school science course in physics, chemistry, and biology. There are several good courses. We liked Exploring Creation with Biology, Exploring Creation With Chemistry, and Exploring Creation with Physics. The text may be supplemented with readings in primary sources. Science fair projects or science contests are very useful supplements to textbooks, putting what you’ve learned to creative and practical use, which is Rhetoric.
History, Literature, and Composition: Students should read and outline How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer Adler, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Edward Corbett. Refer to our last article as to how you can combine history, literature, and composition. Increase the level of challenge from logic to rhetoric level.
Government, Law, and Economics: Excellent sources for studying these subjects are: An Overview of Constitutional Law, an audiotape series by Paul W. Jehle, Basic American Government by Clarence B. Carson, and Basic Economics by Clarence B. Carson.
Speech and Debate: The student should prepare and perform at least one speech and one oral interpretation per month. If possible, participate in debate at least one year. Debate will give the student opportunity to sharpen his research skills. If you study debate, plan on spending seven or more hours per week.
Art and Music: The student should follow his interests here.
Memorization: The student should continue to exercise his mind with memory work, especially with passages of Scripture.
Reading Aloud: Continue reading aloud to the family about two hours per day.
Bible: Family worship and personal devotions should take about an hour per day. See our free pamphlet, “On Family Worship.”
During the pre-grammar level, parents are molding their children. During the grammar and logic levels, parents are developing their children’s fundamental skills giving them the basic tools. But in the rhetoric level, though skills are still being developed, the child begins to pursue a particular course for life based upon his abilities, talents, and interests. Parents should assess their children’s abilities and talents, help them explore their peculiar interests, and encourage them in certain directions. We may encourage hobbies (HAM radio, carpentry, coin collecting, knitting or crochet), special activities (livestock shows, fair exhibits, debate), or special instruction (computer programming, first aid instruction, flight lessons). Our role in their education will slowly change from instructor to counselor as the Lord begins to call them forward and lead them in other directions and eventually to marry and establish a new household. To be well academically prepared, but to have skipped the practical skills for boys and girls is to have missed the mark by a large margin. If you spend your time only teaching for the academic tests of life, you will miss the real tests of life. For some parents, this is all a “no-brainer” while other parents haven’t got a clue. Most of us are somewhere in between, but we all need to teach these things. If kids can’t do the practical things, then there will be huge gaps in their real education. Inversely, if you slight the academics and focus only on the practical, you will be ill prepared to serve God in the world and against the world. If we accomplish our goal of a good classical liberal arts education balanced with a good classical Hebrew education we will have produced some straight and sharp arrows for God’s use.