Three Pillars of Classical Education

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The Return to Classical Education

How can you prepare your children for the real tests of life? How can you give them a strong Christian education? Many homeschool parents are re-discovering these goals in Classical Education. Consider the following three pillars of Classical Education, and see if you don’t agree.

Pillar #1: The Goal of a Classical Education

From ancient times, one of the primary goals for education was to teach a student how to teach himself. The simple idea behind this was that if we train a student in the skills of learning, then he will continue to learn on his own for the remainder of his life. This may be contrasted with the modern concept called “life-long learning,” which does not train a student in the skills of learning, but only trains him to perform individual tasks. As a result, the student must continually return to his trainer for more training. In other words, the basic skills of ancient learning will make us free to learn on our own, but the task-by-task approach of modern learning will enslave us to our taskmasters.

The ancients classified the basic skills for learning under three subjects: 1) Grammar, 2) Logic, and 3) Rhetoric. (Learn more about these in our publications.) Once a student became proficient in the use of these three tools, he was considered to have mastered those arts which liberated him from his teachers. He could now learn on his own. Hence these were called the Liberal Arts. We could call this life-long self-learning which encourages independence, as distinguished from the modern life-long serf-learning which encourages dependence.

What is the Trivium?

The Latin word Trivium means “where three roads meet.” All education, up until this century, was structured around these three roads of learning. The ancients called them GrammarLogic, and Rhetoric. The Bible calls them simply KnowledgeUnderstanding, and Wisdom.

For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. —Proverbs 2:6

Pillar #2: The Trivium Model of Child Development

The Trivium also serves as a model for how children develop. Children go through several stages of learning, and what we teach them and how we teach them should correspond to their stage of development.

Before age ten, children are blossoming in their awareness of the world. They are largely learning the language, building their vocabulary, filling up their basic knowledge of things. We call this the early Grammar Stage. These children need more training than they need teaching. They should be trained in self-discipline and filled with useful information. This lays the proper foundation for more formal studies later.

At about age ten, the light bulb goes on, and the child develops the capacity for more abstract thinking. He can handle abstract mathematical concepts. He can discern the difference between a noun and a verb. So from ages ten through twelve, these youngsters are in the later Grammar Stage. They are prepared for more formal studies. Their knowledge begins to grow rapidly on the abstract level. But their reasoning and their creative communication skills have not yet developed very highly.

From ages thirteen through fifteen, these youths are in the Logic Stage. They begin to develop their reasoning skills. They can better handle Algebra and Geometry. They should be developing the critical apparatus for thinking. They should be more inquisitive and analytical. Their minds should be trained to correctly reason things out and to logically evaluate presuppositions and conclusions.

From ages sixteen through eighteen, these older youths are in the Rhetoric Stage. They begin to develop their skills in communication and application. They want to creatively and effectively express what things they have learned and to put them into practice.

The trivium model for child development may be explained in computer terms. Children are:

  • Booting up in the early Grammar Stage — birth through age 9.
  • Keying in the information in the later Grammar Stage — age 10 through 12.
  • Processing in the Logic Stage — age 13 through 15.
  • Printing out in the Rhetoric Stage — age 16 through 18.

Pillar #3: The Trivium Method for Teaching Subjects

The traditional Liberal Arts curriculum includes studies in the skills of languagelogic, and communication, which is another way of saying the Classical Trivium — Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. This same model can be used as an educational method for teaching each individual subject through three successive levels.

On the first level, which we call the Grammar level, the child learns the basic facts and the fundamental rules. In English, this would include phonics, vocabulary, and spelling rules. In mathematics, the number system, math facts, and measurements. In history, this would include such things as the story part of history, including names, places, and dates.

On the second level, which we call the Logic level, the child learns to comprehend the way these facts fit together. In English, this would include the parts of speech and the construction of sentences. In mathematics, the proofs of algebra or geometry. In history, the reasons for wars, migrations, or inventions.

On the third level, which we call the Rhetoric level, the child learns to express and practice what he has learned. Essays, compositions, and public speaking are applications of English study. Surveying, accounting, and engineering are all applications of mathematical study. Developing views in politics, economics, religion, or science are applications of historical study.

More Classical Education

We seek to apply, in practical ways, and to all areas of life, these proven principles which were expressed — however imperfectly — in ancient classical education. But we need more than academics to fill out and complete education. We need to balance academics with the three goals pursued in a classical Hebrew education. These are: 1) teaching children the Word of God, 2) preparing them for marriage, and 3) training young men for a practical trade and young women for managing their household.

You Can Do Classical Education At Home

Can ordinary homeschool parents do this kind of Classical Education? They certainly can! In Trivium Pursuit 2000 Catalog we’ve gathered materials which Dads and Moms can use to pursue a Classical Education with their children at home.

When parents discover this Classical way of educating, they declare, “This is what we’ve been looking for all along. Finally, we’ve found the approach which puts all of the pieces together.”


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