Classical Trivium by Homeschool: The Well Trained Mind

A Useful “Core Curriculum” Option for Parents

In 2004, college professor Susan Wise Bauer and her schoolteacher mother Jesse Wise, published a book describing their new approach to a powerful homeschooling curriculum. Bringing the classical education of the 1800s and early 1900s full circle, Susan and Jesse adapted the time-proven classical trivium to a resurgent homeschooling movement.

Following are some excerpts from their book, “The Well Trained Mind.” Even parents of children already studying a curriculum that seems to be working, can find some useful and energising ideas in the work of this mother-daughter team.

“… I was nervous when I went away to college. Although I’d done well on standardized exams, I’d never really sat in a regular classroom, facing inflexible deadlines. I was used to taking exams from my mother.

I shouldn’t have worried. I tested out of thirty hours’ worth of college courses; by my second semestor I was taking 400-level courses. I had a host of strange skills: I could diagram sentences; I could read Latin; I knew enough logic to know if an assertion was true or faulty. And I was surrounded by 18 year olds who couldn’t write, didn’t want to read, and couldn’t reason…

… I was ahead of them when I was their age — not because of superior mental abilities, but because I’d been equipped with a closet full of mental tools. My mother taught us the way she’d been taught at home. Our education was language-centered, not image-centered; We read and listened and wrote, but we rarely watched. She spent the early years of our education giving us facts, systematically laying the foundation for advanced study. She taught us to think through arguments, and then she taught us to express ourselves.

This is the classical pattern of the trivium, the three-part process of training the mind.

___ Wise and Bauer: The Well-Trained Mind

More on the Classical Trivium

The history of the classical trivium goes back to the middle ages. It was meant to form the foundation for later learning and achievement.

The trivium is the lower division of the seven liberal arts and comprises grammar, logic, and rhetoric (input, process, and output).

Grammar teaches the mechanics of language to the student. This is the step where the student “comes to terms,” defining the objects and information perceived by the five senses. Hence, the Law of Identity: a tree is a tree, and not a cat.

Logic (also dialectic) is the “mechanics” of thought and of analysis, the process of identifying fallacious arguments and statements and so systematically removing contradictions, thereby producing factual knowledge that can be trusted.

Rhetoric is the application of language in order to instruct and to persuade the listener and the reader. It is the knowledge (grammar) now understood (logic) and being transmitted outwards as wisdom (rhetoric). __ Wikipedia “Trivium”

The trivium was never meant to be the totality of learning, merely the indispensable foundation. Today’s schools have rejected a solid foundation for learning in favor of trendier and more politically correct approaches. The end result of that rejection can be seen in low achievement rates in primary education, and high failure rates in secondary education and college. It can be seen in the catastrophically high college loan levels in the US, with dangerous default rates. Worst of all, it can be seen in the mobs of young people who either drop out of college without useful skills, or who actually graduate with degrees that make them even more incompetent for dealing with the real world than if they had never attended college at all.

More from The Well-Trained Mind

The first years of schooling are called “the grammar stage”— not because four years doing English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are being laid, just as grammar is the foundation for language. In the elementary school years — grades 1 through 4 — the mind is ready to absorb information. Since children at this age actually find memorization fun, during this period education involves … the learning of facts and training in basic thinking skills: rules of phonics and spelling and how to use them, rules of grammar and understanding good sentence structure, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, how numbers work and the basics of mathematical thinking — the list goes on.

Somewhere around fourth or fifth grade, children begin to think more analytically. Middle-school students are less interested in learning facts than in finding out “Why?” The second phase of the classical education, “the logic stage,” is a time when the child begins to pay attention to cause and effect, to the relationships among different fields of knowledge, to the way facts fit together into a logical framework.

… when the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature … the student begins the study of algebra and applies mathematical reasoning to real-life situations. She studies the rules of logic and begins to apply logic to all academic subjects…

The final stage of a classical education, “the rhetoric stage,” builds on the first two. At this stage the high-school student begins to write and speak with force and originality… The student also begins to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts her. These are the years for [special purpose] camps, [college level] courses, foreign travel, apprenticeships, and other forms of specialized training. __ The Well-Trained Mind by Wise and Bauer

This approach to the classical trivium — as applied to homeschooling — should be seen as an excellent approach to the “core curriculum,” but not as a complete education for a Dangerous Child. Dangerous Child training preferably begins at birth — if not before — and continues throughout a person’s lifetime.

While curricula such as the Robinson Curriculum and the Classical Trivium provide excellent core knowledge, and are appropriate to a wide range of children and families, the Dangerous Child requires much additional training and attention — particularly for developing physical competencies and financial/economic skills.

The Dangerous Child masters at least three ways of supporting himself financially by the age of 18 years. None of the popular homeschooling or bricks and mortar schooling curricula that I have seen provides a child with that head start.

The other peculiar aspects of Dangerous Child training — as explained in the FAQs and the “About” page — reveal why Dangerous Children require so much training time, at least in the early stages before they largely take over their own educational planning for themselves.

More information from the authors of “The Well-Trained Mind.”

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