Classical Q & A — Part Two

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Question: What is the goal of the Trivium?

Answer: The goal of the Trivium is to give the student the necessary tools or skills which make him free from his teacher so that he can learn by himself. Thats why the Trivium tools are called the Liberal or liberating Arts.

Question: What vocation or further study does this prepare students for?

Answer: Any and all. The Trivium develops the basic tools needed for efficient and effective learning at all levels in every direction. Most jobs and occupations change within three to five years. Your ability to do any one thing at any one time is not nearly as important as your ability to learn something new. Furthermore, your ability to advance is greatly hindered if you cannot acquire the tools needed.

There’s nothing wrong with working toward a goal or a specific outcome. But the modern Outcome-Based Education should really be called outcome-only-driven education, because it leaves out teaching the basic skills of the Trivium. It puts you on a train to your destination, but if you want to go somewhere else, you’ll have to get on another one of its trains. The Trivium gives you a car and shows you how to get anywhere you want, or how to explore new territory on your own.

Question: What do you foresee young people doing after completion of the Trivium at home?

Answer: By completion of the Trivium, we take you to mean completing formal studies around the three subjects of the Trivium by the end of the customary highschool years. But learning by the Trivium will never end. Once they have the tools, they will have plenty of uses for them. Students may pursue further studies at home or in more formal settings, or they may pursue their own enterprise, or an occupation or a trade, or they may marry and begin homeschooling another generation in the Trivium. No matter what they pursue, they will be better prepared to pursue it if they have the necessary tools of learning.

Question: Your idea about not beginning formal studies until age ten is often quoted and frequently misunderstood. What should a child be learning before age ten?

Answer: A child is learning in all categories before age ten. But he is learning it in a childish way, not in an adult way.

When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, I used to compose thoughts as a child, I used to reason as a child. But by the time I had finally become a man, I had rendered useless the things which pertain to the child. First Corinthians 13:11 v.l.t.

There is a childish level of speaking, of composing thoughts, and of reasoning. For most children, somewhere between ages eight and ten, ten being about the upper cut off date, there is a physical transformation of the brain which allows for the more abstract adult-style learning. At this time, a relatively rapid change occurs in the way children mentally develop. This is literally when we can begin to put away the childish things, and we can begin to learn in a more adult way though it will take several years to assemble the parts and fully develop the adult way of learning.

We may draw an analogy from computers. Before age ten, while the hardware is still being assembled, we are largely booting up and filling data files. At age ten (approximately), we install a much higher grade of processor, and we begin loading more heavy-duty operating software. We continue to build data files and update software until about age thirteen, when our processing power is capable of being fully utilized. By about age sixteen, our output devices are capable of being fully utilized. Though by age eighteen everything input (knowledge), processing (understanding), and output (wisdom) should be operating at full capacity, there is still some important maturing work on both the hardware and software until about age twenty.

Every child develops differently, and there a great degree of variation from child to child. You simply cannot put little children into the straitjacket of a prescribed program. They must be custom-built, not factory-assembled. Trying to squeeze little children into a factory mold causes learning dysfunctions. (Many learning dysfunctions are actually the result of teaching dysfunctions.) We believe this custom-building is one of the reasons homeschooling has been so phenomenally successful.

Though in the last century, and especially in the last few decades, it has become the norm to push adult style learning into earlier years, many educators believe this is not the best trend. Some children survive without irreparable harm under the new methods, and a few even prosper though not because of the methods. Everyone survived and more prospered under the older methods, but now they fall off the conveyor belt and are either lost in the shuffle or spend their lives in remedial education.

We address all of these things in much greater depth throughout our book Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style.

There’s too much to say here in too little space. Before age ten (approximately), the child is mostly dependent upon his concrete sensory experiences for learning. Force feeding academic studies is not an efficient use of your time, is not going to accomplish all of the good you intend, and may actually work some harm. You should focus on building a good foundation for later academics. Develop moral capacity through regular family worship, honoring parents through first time obedience, doing regular chores, visiting nursing homes. Develop capacity for language through phonics instruction, reading, writing, oral narration, copywork and memorization of Scripture, of catechisms, of passages of literature, of ancient alphabets and of passages in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Vocabulary is the primary index of intelligence, and regular reading aloud to your children from good literature for at least two hours per day will widen their vocabulary and their conception of the world. You want to develop in them an appetite for learning. At our web site, we have an article on Ten Things to Do Before Age Ten, which is an earlier and much shorter version of Chapter Eleven in our book.

Question: Should homeschooled Christian children attend college either as “dual enrolled” students during Trivium studies or after completing the Trivium?

Answer: If you’re talking about correspondence courses, or taking selected specialized courses from an instructor at a local campus, dual enrollment may be the best of both worlds.

We have, however, taken the bold step of pushing the envelope and calling for a reconsideration of the whole race for the college campus question. We have seen too many examples of it being a race over the cliff spiritually, intellectually, culturally, financially, and even physically. The presumption should not be that when a student reaches age eighteen he should leave home and go off to campus. Between age eighteen and twenty is when the moral conscience is being strengthened and solidified. Especially today, the campus culture and the college classroom even in Christian colleges is a dangerous place to be forming the conscience. The family should still be the primary moral influence until age twenty, and that does not often match well with living on campus. College by correspondence, college by testing, apprenticeships, and other such programs are legitimate options with many advantages over campus colleges. The campus college is itself a tool which you must use to your own advantage. We believe you should consider all of your options before deciding which road to take. If you have specific goals in mind which a particular college can satisfy, if you understand the dangers, the costs, and the alternatives, and you know how to handle these things within God’s order, and if you are certain that this is God’s leading, not the pressures of the world, your own flesh, or an unfounded philosophy, then college may be where you belong. Chapter Fifteen of our book discusses the college question more thoroughly.

[College should not be the place where the mold casting is finally set.]

We have one more ancillary thought. The Trivium gives students the tools for teaching themselves. This matches well with homeschooling because it renders much outside instruction unnecessary. Classroom and campus are rendered less necessary. There remain some specialized skills and fields of knowledge which may require, or at least are made easier by, some personal or classroom instruction. It is at that point that the college campus should be considered an option.

In our opinion, the overwhelming success of homeschooling has proven the child classroom factory model to be less efficient and less effective. We prefer the custom-built homeschool model. This is not quite so true about adult education, where the classroom model may be more effective in specialized fields of knowledge. The Biblical model of the church may serve as an example here. The teaching in the gathered church may be compared to an efficient adult classroom where fully accountable adults receive instruction. The father knows all of what the family hears in the church assembly. Back home, he explains and (if necessary) amends what was taught in church. In our opinion, the homeschooling model creates a pressure for the church to return to this Biblical model, where parents are instructed at church, and children are instructed at home. Furthermore, homeschooling creates a pressure to restructure higher education into models which are not disruptive to family and societal order, and which efficiently serve specialized purposes instead of socialist goals. Homeschooling is the cutting edge of a renaissance in education. Transformation begins from the bottom up and from the inside out.


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