When I first began learning about classical education, I learned about it through the lens of the trivium, as the stages of learning/development. I remember going to my first conference, reading my first homeschooling overview books, and talking to many homeschooling mothers. In addition, the only books I was aware of at that time about classical education were The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, Rediscovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson, and Dorothy Sayers essay, The Lost Tools of Learning. Everyone seemed to echo this idea that classical education was the teaching of certain subjects within the framework of these stages of learning. I did not have any other reference point, so I believed them. Of course, since I was just beginning to learn I was seeing all of this as a caricature, these people who had written these wonderful books had been thinking about classical education for a long time and so it is more than probable that I was not discerning the depths of this tradition because I was only ready for the milk, so to speak.
As I have continued to grow in my understanding of what it means to be human, begun to see more of the reality of the Christian classical tradition, and read more authors who speak on this tradition I have in turn begun to see the trivium differently. In fact throughout history the trivium was never primarily correlated with stages of learning. The trivium has always been subjects, the language arts of the liberal arts curriculum; grammar, meaning letters, Logic, meaning dialectic, and rhetoric, meaning eloquentia perfecta. This was the original meaning of the trivium, and it was all rooted in the idea that these were the arts that touched every human activity. They were the humane arts; this view carries with it the idea that because we are human there are certain things we can do, think, be, and have. Therefore, the Liberal arts have always been about perfecting the abilities we already have, so we may become whole and complete. As a side note, when I talk about becoming complete, I mean it in the sense of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Philippians 1:6. In no way do mean that a child, or adult for that matter, could be less than human. This was a common belief in Victorian England; a belief Charlotte Mason spoke against and with good reason. There is a definite and clear difference between that and what the Christian classical tradition speaks of. A better way to say may be to call it the imperfectness that comes because we are fallen humans and live on this side of eternity. I know this is a concern for many who are still unsure about the harmony of Christian Classical and Charlotte Mason philosophies of education and so I wanted to mention it.
I do realize that as infants grow into children and children to young adults and young adults to mature adults there are many similarities that any person could observe as common characteristics of certain age groups. I do not believe this points to how we should organize the curriculum. The following tells us why. In David Hicks chapter, Teaching the Father of Man, he discusses this idea of child development and a right view of it in light of our normative goals. It is a slight distinction, but a distinction that makes all the difference. In the following quote, Hicks is discusses the views and methods of Isokrates, who could easily be named the father of the classical tradition. He held the goal of educating men to become virtuous in their public and private lives above every other goal. He lived at the same time as Socrates and has incredible insight into this great tradition.
“In any case, Isokrates’ educative aim was to form an adult, not to develop a child, and his method was to teach the knowledge of a mature mind, not to offer relevant learning experiences at the level of his student’s stage of psychological development. His methods surely had their shortcomings, but on their behalf, it might be said that logical progression is more readily ascertained and agreed upon than psychological order. Moreover, where the two are not coterminous (enclosed within a common boundary), what might be proper psychological order may also be logical chaos. It is the challenge of teaching to understand what form advanced concepts ought to take at a rudimentary level of psychological development, while it is the challenge of learning to discipline the unruly and discursive mind, adjusting its disorderliness through rigorous study to the logical processes found outside it in the subject matter.” –David Hick, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, p. 38
As Christian classical educators, I do believe we can go one step further. Thought, in the classical tradition, generally leads to a philosophical or theological truth. In fact, that is what makes the tradition what it is. We believe there is a central truth that harmonizes all other truths. In the Christian classical tradition, we believe the central truth is Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate.
Let us, for a moment turn our attention to the idea of the stages of learning in light of what we have discussed so far. I propose there are sequential encounters that are spiritual in nature and necessary in order to mature further on our way to completeness, as described in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. It has a lot less to do with how one should learn and a lot more do with how one’s soul longs to know God. This to me seems more consistent with the nature of the tradition.
I am no child psychologist, and I do not profess to be an expert on any of this, but I do know what I have experienced through my own life, deliverance, and teaching experiences. Each time the Lord shows me an area where I have not been aligned with reality I have to go deeper and relinquish more ideas, expectations, and beliefs that have been false. Since this is a daily process for me I have noticed a pattern in the course of my sanctification, a pattern I have seen manifested in other people’s lives who are giving themselves to a process of sanctification as well.
That pattern is, simply put, we seek provision, when we receive that provision we seek harmony, when we receive that harmony we seek to embody. What does this have to do with the trivium? Let us take a look. We will look at each part of the pattern more closely over the course of this week. Wednesday will bring our attention to ‘provision and the grammar stage.’ Thank you for thinking with me.
Expanding wisdom, extending grace,
This post is part of a weekly Classical homeschooling link-up. You can visit other great classical education blogs by clicking on the button to the left and scrolling to the bottom of the post. Enjoy the browsing.