“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” -G.K. Chesterton
When first discovering classical Christian education I was humbled and thrilled. I was humbled when realizing how limited my own education was and thrilled to find a method of education which taught a comprehensive view of the world and had great expectations for our youth. Two questions continued to nag me, “Why?” and “How?” Why is education in the state it is in, and how can Christians raise up a generation similar to the All-Star lineups found during the Early Church, Renaissance, and the founding of the United States? The answer to the first question may be posited in various ways but ultimately boils down to the rejection of God and the embrace of a secular libertinism. The answer to how we raise up a generation of children with the potential of creating a true cultural renaissance is a bit more difficult to put forward because most parents and educators today have not been handed down the tradition necessary for such a goal. Those who desire to stand in the classical Christian tradition have had to rediscover it for themselves. Over the last three decades, faithful men and women have been at the task of rediscovering and implementing methods of classical Christian education.
I intend to use The House of Anthropos blog as a place to post my findings and reflections while participating in the rediscovery of the classical Christian tradition. I hope to trace the curricula of schools from the Jewish, Greek, and Roman civilizations, through western Christendom, to modernity, while gleaning wisdom from educators of the past. Before delving into the past, I’d like to use today’s post to briefly explain how many modern classical Christian schools use the Trivium to structure curricula.
In the classical Christian education movement, Dorothy Sayers’ essay entitled, “The Lost Tools of Learning” has had a significant impact on how schools structure curricula. Schools often use the arts of the Trivium to reflect the stages of child development: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. This may seem a bit confusing at first because today, we tend to view our education as being composed of individual subjects ( e.g. a student might take an elective course in logic or rhetoric before leaving high school or college). Sayers however, was more interested in the Trivium as ‘arts’ stating, “...these ‘subjects’ are not what we should call ‘subjects’ at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects.” To demonstrate her point, Sayers gives us an explanation of the schooling of the medieval student:
The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to "subjects" at all. First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself--what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument. Dialectic, that is to say, embraced Logic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language-- how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.
Although the classical tradition has not historically explained the Trivium in terms of “child psychology” or as “a theory of child development,” classical Christian schools have rightly held on to an aspect of these arts being used methodically, as explained by Sayers. Covenant Classical Academy explains using the Trivium in this way on our website, “These tools 'cut with the grain' of how children learn. Thinking precisely (grammar), reasoning faithfully (logic), and communicating effectively (rhetoric) comprise these arts of language.” As I will show in future posts, the language may not have been the same, but those in the classical tradition naturally structured curricula in a similar way (Jewish, Greek, and Roman schools, Catechetical Schools, Medieval universities, and schools of Christian Humanists from the Renaissance to the 19th Century).
What modern classical Christian schools have not been the best at explaining is the importance of using all three arts of the Trivium in each stage of development. For simplicity’s sake, schools have often explained that Grades K-6 learn the grammar of each subject, Grades 7-9 learn the logic of each subject, and Grades 10-12 learn the rhetoric of each subject. Such an explanation gives too segmented a view however. In each stage of learning, the child is engaging all three of the arts. The classical curriculum is much more of a unified whole; the name given to each stage of learning is better understood as an acknowledgement of which art is most emphasized. The graphs below should help to see that while one art will receive more emphasis depending on the child’s stage of development, no art is neglected.
Now that we have a basic view of the curriculum of many schools influenced by Dorothy Sayers today, let’s see if such a structure arises in future posts. The only plan I have for future posts is to start with the education of the Hebrews and move chronologically toward education in the 19th century. Likely, I will lay out a general curriculum and reflect on quotes from thought leaders and educators from each period. I look forward to this journey and hope it is beneficial to any with the desire to tag along.