Classical Model of Education: The Trivium
Updated: May 25, 2022
For those that are unfamiliar with the Classical Model of Education, the following represents a basic introduction.
The Classical model of education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing knowledge to systematically lay the foundations for advanced study. Subsequently, in the years commonly called "middle school," students learn to connect information together rightly, producing understanding. In the high school years, they should be mentored as they apply and present their knowledge and understanding, producing wisdom. This classical pattern is called the Trivium, or "three roads."
The first years of schooling are called the “grammar stage” — not because students spend four years doing English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid. In the elementary school years — what we commonly think of as grades one through four — the mind is ready to absorb information. Children at this age actually find memorization fun! So during this period, education involves not self-expression and self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts. Rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics — the list goes on. Clearly, this is the ideal timeframe for a focus on memorization of Biblical facts and direct Scripture. This information makes up the “grammar,” or the basic building blocks, for the second stage of classical education.
By about fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, a child’s mind begins to think more analytically. Middle-school students are less interested in finding out facts than in asking “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 between different fields of knowledge, and to the way facts fit together into a logical framework.
A student is ready for the Logic Stage when the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature. During these years, classical students begin algebra and the study of logic, and begin to apply logic to all academic subjects. The logic of history demands that the student find out why the War of 1812 was fought rather than simply reading its chronology; the logic of science allows an exploration of the causes and implications of scientific phenomena. Biblical discussion and practiced use of Biblical information can help to leverage this natural, information-connective (or dialectic) focus of students to produce understanding.
The final phase of a classical education, the “Rhetoric Stage,” builds on the first two. At this point, the late middle school or high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in middle school to the foundational information learned in the early grades and develops the ability to express their conclusions in clear, forceful, even elegant language. The rhetoric stage is the ideal time to help students work through the application and presentation of God's Word and the development of godly wisdom. Mentorship is thus critical in this phase, as parents and caring mentors help their students wrestle with the implications of what God has to say and how the Bible is communicated and lived out in the world.