Western society today owes much to its Christian heritage and an educational system that has been largely discarded. In a culture that believes that new always means better, what works is often discarded for a “new and innovative approach.” That is why the “sight reading method” replaced phonics and why the “new math” of memorizing methods replaced understanding why these very same methods work. The results have been disastrous.
The shift away from a “classical education” came in America and England during the mid-1800s. A few farsighted people warned of the consequence and tried to convince the educators to rethink their methods. One such person was the British author, Dorothy Sayers. She wrote an essay entitled, The Lost Tools of Learning. In it, she calls for a return to the “Trivium” used by western teachers down through the ages. The Trivium was designed to follow the natural developmental stages of children. It consisted of three distinct phases: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
Doug Wilson, a founding board member of the first school to return to the Trivium, explains the classical method in his book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.
An excerpt from Doug Wilson’s book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning:
“The structure of our curriculum is traditional with a strong emphasis on the ‘basics.’ We understand the basics to be subjects such as mathematics, history, and language studies. Not only are these subjects covered, they are covered in a particular way. For example, in history class the students will not only read their text, they will also read from primary sources. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric will be emphasized in all subjects. By grammar, we mean the fundamental rules of each subject (again, we do not limit grammar to language studies), as well as the basic data that exhibit those rules. In English, a singular noun does not take a plural verb. In logic, A does not equal not A. In history, time is linear, not cyclic. Each subject has its own grammar, which we require the students to learn. This enables the student to learn the subject from the inside out.
The logic of each subject refers to the ordered relationship of that subject’s particulars (grammar). What is the relationship between the Reformation and the colonization of America? What is the relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence? As the students learn the underlying rules or principles of a subject (grammar) along with how the particulars of that subject relate to one another (logic), they are learning to think. They are not simply memorizing fragmented pieces of knowledge.
The last emphasis is rhetoric. We want our students to be able to express clearly everything they learn. An essay in history must be written as clearly as if it were an English paper. An oral presentation in science should be as coherent as possible. It is not enough that the history or science be correct. It must also be expressed well.”