I often run into homeschooling families who firmly adhere to what is called a “classical education”. Many of the ideals espoused in this type of education are beautiful – reading good books, learning the historical sense of things, etc. An article that covers these principals can be found here.
A big question I have, however, is in the use of what is commonly called the “trivium”. Classical educators of Greek and later periods used what they called “trivium” to describe three aspects of a a foundational education (primary school) namely: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These were taught first before the later subjects of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The word ‘trivium’ means ‘three ways/roads’ in Latin. So these three areas were taught so the child would learn HOW to learn before proceeding to the important subjects covered later. This sounds fine.
However, what is typically taught in modern books on the subject of classical education is that the ‘trivium’ represents three stages of development in children, and thus things should be taught differently in each of the three stages: grammar stage, then logic stage, then the rhetoric stage. I’m not sure where the research came from to cement children into these stages by age or grade level, or why the trivium was split into three distinct developmental stages instead of seeing it as three aspects of a good education as the Greeks did. This basic idea seems to be based entirely on the writings of Dorothy Sayers.
Of course, the “stage” that my children would be currently in or finishing, would be the “grammar stage”. Apparently children of this age are good at and love memorizing. So the theory is that children should start with memorizing many facts, drilling grammar, math, and history facts, not necessarily in context of understanding. The theory continues that children will then be able to use these “facts” later on when they are hit with learning the context.
Do I agree? Not necessarily. I believe some kids like to memorize facts, and may be good at it. However, I remember as a child trying desperately to understand WHY things were the way they were. I have children who want more than facts. They want to understand why. They want to know why they are expected to learn math a certain way, how it relates to the real world, and different ways of looking at things. My son often surprises me at his ingenious ways of solving math problems unconventionally. I value this! I don’t want my children bogged down by memorizing facts and missing out on learning how to learn now. Learning to learn should come now, not after they’ve tired of drill and school.
I’m not decrying classical education completely, and I agree with a lot of what is taught. Some kids do well. Other people do fit in helping kids love to learn within and around the classical methodologies. I just seek better methods of instilling a love of learning in my children. Have I reached my goal? Not yet. I’m also in the learning process, and am humbled daily by how little any of us knows. But I believe in the potential of helping my children love learning for the sake of learning, and I take joy in little steps toward that goal.