Monday, March 20, 2017

Looking Back On a Nonconformist's Homeschool

Now that my time of homeschooling our three sons is over, I have plunged into a new era of looking
back at it all. The one lesson that God taught me over and over again during our 20 plus years
of homeschooling is that the boys' education is NOT in direct correspondence with my performance as a homeschooling mom. In other words, some of my biggest 'failures' have provided opportunities for great learning and growth. Some of their studies have been the result of things that I didn't cause directly. Instead they were a result of the lifestyle and the priorities we set: To love and appreciate people, nature, hard work--and also, poetry, art, and great books, and over it all to love God. We attempted to keep secondary the frantic pursuit of a transcript. In fact, we just threw it out!


Many of the books that I read in my college years (in the 1970s) are so relevant to the issues we discuss in classical homeschooling....  After "dropping out"of Wheaton so that I could study more leisurely at the local university (where I was allowed to study part-time), I read books like Jacques Ellul's Technological Society, Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, Lasch's Minimal Self, Lewis' Abolition of Man. The ideas in these books are much more relevant to the issues of education than they first seem. They talk about the disintegration of human life and community, exacerbated by techne and mass media; this goes hand in hand with a lack of vision and integration in education. There are even chapters on education, which at the time I simply glossed over since I was not attempting to raise children. Now as I look back...


The World's Curriculum Plan


The World's 'Curriculum Plan' is confused, and really somewhat bankrupt. There is a profound and spiritual value in the concept of not conforming to the world's curriculum plan. With fear and trembling (sometimes) I chose not to let the state university's requirements dictate our lives as homeschoolers. Instead we spent time learning what we thought was important to life, and this included learning to build and wire. Academically that happened to include the trivium and Latin, and a few other classical subjects--especially history. And surprise, surprise! This sort of learning served our guys very well. The emphasis on respecting others and serving by working with their hands (which they mainly learned from their dad) is not such a bad thing. And then there is simply that thing called taking the time to just sit and chat.... about what you're experiencing or studying.

Chairs like this are more and more empty. I guess that I am either the victim--or rather the beneficiary--of being encouraged (Grandma paid me $5) to memorize Romans 12 when I was a kid.  As a result, this verse always came to mind when I was planning our studies:
Therefore, be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

 

Is the Proof In the Pudding?


So at this point you may be wondering, "So how did it turn out?!" Well, I had expected, and you may be thinking, "At least they are loving, hard-working carpenters or electricians!" And I would have been thrilled with that! My husband is one, and we are super proud of him. So I don't tell you this next stuff, because I'm bragging or because I think that this is the ideal result. I just want you to know that you don't have to worry so hard about the "approved transcript," if your student wants to go to graduate school or become a lawyer.

Our oldest son (homeschooled unconventionally from 4th-12th grade except for one disastrous year in public high school) is a graduate of William and Mary Law, and he passionately serves as a public defender in a large southern city. Our second son (homeschooled from 1st-12th grade) did a long stint in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne, and then came back to get a BS in Economics, having a great job waiting for him when he finished that degree. The youngest son (homeschooled for most years but practically a dropout--long story!) has always been too busy for college, considering it a luxury that he cannot afford. So instead he studies on his own, while pursuing a career with his band, Trismalux, and his voice acting. He supports himself with waiting tables in a French restaurant!

But the most thrilling of all to me is that all three of them desire to always grow in loving God and their neighbor. This is success.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Creating a New Drum

...what T.S. Eliot has to say about The Benedict Option


When I heard about the new term "Benedict Option" floating around the web, my first thought was that this is nothing new; many of us have been striving to create our own alternative realities within this secular world for quite a while. It just sort of tickled me that Rod Dreher is talking as if he is calling for something new, when a whole sub-culture of radical Christians have been working on this for years, for decades! But now that I've been reading the blogs and discussions of this, I am so glad that he has raised the issue and given it a quirky new name--so that we can revive the discussion.

So what exactly is the Benedict Option?

From what I can gather it is simply focusing less on changing our country through politics, and more on building local Christian communities that seek to instill true Christian values. And you might respond, but isn't this the church? Ideally yes, but churches have focused on only one aspect of Christian life: rules of belief--doctrines. They have stayed out of life style (our way of life). But culture and lifestyle are where the rubber meets the road for us humans. And we do need to revive the dialogue and bring an awareness of the need for an essential change in the hearts and minds of Christians--one that will change our whole way of life!

But still, the recognition that Christians need to come together to form their own enclaves or communities in the secular society, in order to keep our values and true education alive, is nothing new! I thought of the many books written over the past century that are relevant to this discussion. When I pulled down Christianity and Culture by T.S. Eliot and reread his first essay, "The Idea of a Christian Society," I was amazed at how relevant it was to the current discussion. For example, here are just a few quotes from the first few pages....
I am here concerned only secondarily with the changes in economic organization... my primary interest is a change in our social attitude, such a change only as could bring about anything worthy to be called a Christian Society. (p. 8)
What we are seeking is not a programme for a party, but a way of life for a people. (p. 14)
Our secular, materialistic society cannot be "fixed" with political solutions. It is the society's view of man, and his nature, that is at the root of the problem. And in education this affects their teaching of language and essential ideas. Wise and thoughtful Christians have seen this and they have attempted to form schools that will instill the right values, but too often these schools fail because they keep imitating the public schools. They lost track of what education is for. 
The more highly industrialised the country, the more easily a materialistic philosophy will flourish in it, and the more deadly that philosophy will be. ... The tendency of unlimited industrialism is to create bodies of men and women--of all classes--detached from tradition, alienated from religion, and susceptible to mass suggestion: in other words, a mob. A mob will be no less a mob if it is well fed, well housed, and well disciplined. (p. 17)
The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate to any world that treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable. (p. 17)
The problem of living a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us... It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: (they are) no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma--and he is in the majority--he is becoming more and more de-Christianised by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. (p. 17)
All of the above come from Eliot's essay, "The Idea Of a Christian Society." And this was written in 1939.

So, lets talk about how we move forward in Christian community? How do we provide for the education of our young, and therefore preserve a true and lively, loving Christian culture? As T.S. Eliot said in The Four Quartets:
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.        ~ Little Gidding

Monday, April 13, 2015

One Little Quibble with Karen Glass' New Book

I have finally finished reading Consider This, by Karen Glass. I found much of it fascinating--and I loved the reiteration of the Charlotte Mason principle: "education is a life." Since the term "classical education" is so broad and has been used in so many different ways, it is just downright funny to me for someone to argue about whether a educational approach is really "classical" or not! In fact, it seems that everyone is just describing what they believe the true, best education is and arguing why the term "classical" should be put on it!  But all of that is for other posts.
Here I just want to quibble over the word "synthetic" to refer to whole, personal knowledge versus analytic knowledge. I'm glad that she explained the reason she chose it over other more common terms. As she said on page 33:
I choose to use the word 'synthetic' partly because Charlotte Mason uses it, and partly because of the actual definition. It is made up of two Greek roots: syn (with) and thesis (to set forth)--to place things together.
This makes it a little bit more forgivable (smile). Glass also explains on page 117:
James Taylor, author of Poetic Knowledge, tells us that the opposite of 'poetic' knowledge is 'scientific' knowledge. David Hicks in Norms and Nobility contrasts 'dialectic' thinking with 'analytic' thinking. I will continue using the term 'synthetic,' but it should be understood that we all mean essentially the same thing. In the simplest of terms it is the difference between knowing a thing and knowing about a thing.
Yes! The best education is going to approach the student as a whole person and help them toward a whole knowledge about a real and valuable world. Seeking a whole understanding of the natural world and language means that we believe there is meaning in life--ultimate meaning. It is a search for wisdom, and it is found in a hopeful and humble approach to life and learning.

But I just can't help it! I prefer the term "integral knowledge," since it comes from a Latin adjective. The root meaning of "integrated" or "integral" seems to come closer to what we are looking for: integer, integra, integrum means "whole, complete, undamaged, vigorous." The Greek term is not as close to what we are trying to get at; in fact, one of the meanings of the word "synthetic" is "not real or genuine; artificial."

A real, lively experience of any subject in its wholeness must be connected as quickly as possible with the analytic study of its jargon and principles. Previous to, during and after, an analytic study of any subject, allow your child to enjoy whatever it is. That is not a waste of time.

I was very much influenced by the Charlotte Mason movement. One of my first books on homeschooling is For the Children's Sake, and I am greatly inspired by it. Yes--education is a life. To me that sums up the power of the Charlotte Mason approach. What we seek for our children is an education that is "whole, complete, undamaged, vigorous!"




Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Towards a Vigorous Education

I feel that it is time we re-assess what we want for our children in this world and re-think how we talk about education. Words are important, because language is a gift from God for the building of community and culture with others.

The reason I advocate a vigorous education, rather than a rigorous one, is obvious with a quick look at the root meanings of these words. The Latin word vigor means the "fullness of life," while the word rigor means "stiffness of death." When used in relationship to education "rigorous" means something like this: strict adherence to rules and very challenging goals. There is nothing wrong with this--in some areas and in certain situations--but not in the raising and training of a child's mind.

Consider the use of these adjectives in other contexts besides our K-12 education:
Water and sun provide vigorous plant growth. ...
The cadet receives rigorous training in military procedures...
There are times and places for "rigorous training," but I think it is unfortunate that we sometimes use it to refer to our children's overall education--or to the atmosphere in schools. Each of our children has different talents and their minds develop at different rates, so it is clear that there needs to be great flexibility in their education. The best learning environment is a place to study amidst loving and committed human relationships, whether that's in a family or a small school. Deep and wide development of language does not happen in a rigid and impersonal environment.

But please don't be offended if you use this term (rigorous) with education a lot; even though its original use was to refer to rigid and unbending guidelines, it is now used more to mean that there will be some standards applied! Discipline sought and worthy goals set up, etc. In our day language training has gotten so 'loosey-goosey' that the pendulum needs to swing back. I get that. As John Piper says in an article at Christianity Today:
This is an overwhelming argument for giving our children a disciplined and rigorous training in how to think an author's thoughts after him from a text—especially a biblical text.   
A disciplined training in language arts, and in other subjects, is desirable and may need to have the highest standards, but please could we get away from the word that comes from the noun that means the "stiffness of death!" In our homes we should seek a vigorous, lively, literary education. I challenge you to look up the meaning of "vigor" and of "rigor." Think about what they mean and consider how your education plan can be more vigorous than rigorous.

Let's inspire and cultivate the vigor of life in our children's minds and hearts, which will lead them to live in a creative and loving way, and therefore, in a God honoring way.

Schooling Has Consequences

Some have asked why I listed Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver as one of the primary influences on my educational philosophy, so I pulled it off the shelf to read a few of my favorite quotes. Its been over ten years since I read it, but I will always remember the seminal quality of this book, which was published in 1948.

I remember where I was when reading certain passages of this. I was by a certain beautiful, peaceful pool. It was 2002 and we had just sold the house, because my husband, a master electrician, had been in a terrible accident at work and was only just beginning to recover from it, when the company laid him off. He had not been able to find any other work in Colorado, so he had taken a temporary job working on one of the new substations they were installing in the San Francisco Bay area. The boys and I stayed in Colorado and moved into an apartment. So we spent quite a bit of time that summer by the pool (the only pleasant spot in the complex), where we met a retired engineer and inventor, who like to debate the meaning of life and the purpose of education.

Between talking to our new friend and swimming, I underlined sections like this in Ideas Have Consequences:
There is no difficulty in securing enough agreement for action on the point that education should serve the needs of the people. But all hinges on the interpretation of needs; if the primary need of man is to perfect his spiritual being and prepare for immortality, then education of the mind and the passions will take precedence over all else. The growth of materialism, however, has made this a consideration remote and even incomprehensible to the majority.
Mr. Scientist had been very materialistic through his life and climbed to the very top of a professional career, playing a major role in developing the gps for NASA. But then he had lost much of his wealth, along with his reputation, to his second wife. So he had hit the bottom and after some soul searching was now enjoying a very simple life, reading books and talking to younger people, hoping that they would question all of the great materialistic purposes they devoted themselves to.
He was pleased to find someone who was reading a book that was cutting to the chase on all of these sorts of issues. So we would talk, and I would read a quote from the book.

I told him that it seemed many are not content to acquire enough education to have a simple life that provides a humble home and food on the table...
...the prevailing conception is that education must be such as will enable one to acquire enough wealth to live on the plane of the bourgeoisie. That kind of education does not develop the aristocratic virtues. It neither encourages reflection nor inspires a reverence for the good.
Even though Mr. Scientist was beginning to question the purpose of life and materialistic pursuits, he had not thought about the education "system" so much. So we would debate what education is for. He was still thinking, as most do, that education's purpose was to train a citizenry to fit into the spots society has for them. To provide them knowledge that would enable them to serve the bureaucratic system, and work themselves into the most favorable position. There is no denying that a society needs some great "training schools" for various technical and bureaucratic careers. But a true education will prepare the young to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind. The primary tool for doing this is language. Through wide reading and inter-communication we develop our thinking and our ability to understand people.

But we are impatient, and we want it all. We want to cut to the chase and hurry up and train our kids for The System, yet we hear that "classical education" is powerful, so we add Latin, Logic and Great Books study to all the other necessary subjects (according to our government run schools). We assume that our young will be too busy to ever read again, once they graduate. And they probably will, if they imitate their parents. Perhaps they will also be so burned out by all the study that was crammed into their 12 years of learning, that they will never want to open another book!

The fact that we use our schools as a means of putting young adults in the best position in this materialistic hierarchy has made us look at education as if it was a commodity that all students should have equal access to--to be fair. But if we have an understanding of what true knowledge is, then we know that there will be some whose minds reach higher up into it than others. So there is a no "one size fits all" education. Weaver does lots of "deep talking" on this in his book, but here is one pertinent quote:
In the Middle Ages, when there obtained a comparatively clear perception of reality, the possessor of highest learning was the philosophic doctor. He stood at the center of things because he had mastered principles.
 Do consider reading this fascinating and deep book!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Especially for "Wednesday With Words"

Think about this great quote about 'conversation' from Caring For Words in a Culture of Lies, a wonderful little book recommended by my friend Tina in Colorado:
Words are entrusted to us as equipment for our life together, to help us survive, guide, and nourish one another.... A large, almost sacramental sense of the import and efficacy of words can be found in early English usage, where conversation appears to have been a term that included and implied much more than it does now: to converse was to foster community, to commune with to dwell in a place with others. Conversation was understood to be a life-sustaining practice, a blessing, and a craft to be cultivated for the common good. (p. 2)
How excited I was when I began to read this book a few days ago and realized that someone else had been thinking about the historical and root meaning of our word 'conversation.' I just recently researched the etymology of the Latin conversatio since I was using the term to name what we are hoping to do at the Harvey Center! As I wrote there a few months ago: "the most important factor in developing the minds of our young people is to provide them an atmosphere of learning in humility to God. It is a life that must be modeled and passed on with love and care. This best happens in a place like a family, or a small school, where the student is known and loved as a whole person. We want to encourage the parents and other members of the extended family to study along with their students, and to read and discuss great literature together." Yes, we want to encourage thoughtful, life-changing conversatio!

During the Middle Ages the term conversatio morum was used by the Benedictine monks to refer to their life of constantly turning together toward God.  Conversatio morum is a vow to a continual change of heart, a daily reshaping of the mind and heart according to God’s will.

I like to think of the idea behind our English word "conversation" by focusing on the meaning of the Latin, conversatio:  a constant turning together, a way of life. To quote again from McEntyre's book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies:
When we converse, we act together towards a common end, and we act upon one another. Indeed, conversation is a form of activism--a political enterprise in the largest and oldest sense-- a way of building and sustaining community. (p. 89)

The Whirligig Is No Place For a Life of Love!

Over the years I've sought true fellowship with other Christians, but have found that this is very difficult. It is much easier to do things with non-Christians, because it seems that Christians are always very busy doing "important things." There are always so many good reasons for people to be rushing around. I realize that most people are on the 'merry-go-round' so that they can find people to talk with, but there isn't much opportunity for true conversation there. Yet, when you stay off the "merry-go-round" of constant go-go-go, life then gets very lonely. You watch all of your potential friends speeding past you on the whirling platform, while you enjoy the sunshine and the picnic table all by yourself. Perhaps you can wave and throw a few words of encouragement as they speed past, but that's about it. Some say that you must work side be side on the whirligig in order to have an opportunity for more exchanges.

The Latin term  conversatio means  a life of thoughtfulness, or a process of turning an idea around with others. Its roots mean: con (cum) with & versat turning around. The word came to mean turning ideas and thoughts around with each other. I've always thought that a truly thoughtful "conversation" is one of the most exciting things in the world, especially when you can get to know the people with whom you are conversing. This inspires your own mind and heart to grow and improve.  It inspires creativity and action!
Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a s a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
~  Ephesians 5: 1-2             

In light of this verse, should we reconsider the way we live? I've often wondered how we can justify rushing about from one activity to another, primarily to make sure that our children progress in their careers. Leaving very little time for developing relationships with others. It seems to be very hard for us to put free time with nature, books and people at the top of our list. There are endless projects that we feel must be done, and they will always get in the way of living a life of love. But if we provide ourselves time for study, prayer, and reflection on God's wonders, we will be overflowing with praise, will develop sensitive hearts, and be able to practice love for others more and more. What better 'project' could there be?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Quotable for July


It is only within a particular social system that a system of education has any meaning. If education today seems to deteriorate, if it seems to become more and more chaotic and meaningless, it is primarily because we have no settled and satisfactory arrangement of society, and because we have both vague and diverse opinions about the kind of society we want. Education is a subject which cannot be discussed in a void: our questions raise other questions, social, economic, financial, political. And the bearings are on more ultimate problems even than these: to know what we want in education we must know what we want in general, we must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life.

~from a little-known T.S. Eliot essay, "Modern Education and the Classics"  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

THANKing and Paying Attention

The more I read this, the more I want to talk about Caldecott's latest book, Beauty in the Word! I knew I was going to love this book, since my youngest son and I were already reading Beauty for Truth's Sake--it's funny, but I can't finish that one, because my son is always carrying it away with him to read! But now, since we have two books by Stratford Caldecott, we can each read in peace.

This second book is a profound study on the significance of word, and I think that I've finally found a book on "classical education" that I might be able to whole-heartedly recommend--in fact, I think I might call it my favorite book on true education (which is a better term for what we wish to pursue). But let me finish it first; I'm about halfway through. Caldecott even quotes from Marshall McLuhan's book, which I'm also reading now. By the way, that is another one I can't wait to write about: it is fascinating to see McLuhan immersed in the writings of classical authors, and obscure ones at that!

But back to Caldecott, here are some of my latest underlinings:
"Truth is not a quarry that can easily be pursued without the help of others, because our thoughts have a tendency to run in circles. Our friends ...are given to us as 'helpers' in that quest, which leads
ultimately to God." p. 81

And then there's the section starting on pp. 29-31 about the concept of attention. Wish that I had
time to just type up all three pages of it, but here are a few quotes:
"If attention to the child is the key to the teacher's success, it is the child's own quality of attention that is the key to the learning process... 
Attention is desire; it is the desire for light, for truth, for understanding, for possession..... The attentive concentration on that which is sought and desired unites teacher and pupil through the presence of a 'third' which is the living truth (the content if you like) not yet possessed and yet somehow invisibly present, implicit in the relationship itself.
The relationship is what makes the truth flow. We learn because we love."
"Chesterton said, 'Thanking is the highest form of thought,' ...because it penetrates to the highest truth about things: that they do not simply subsist in themselves but in another....
This is what we saw as we sat on our back deck last week!
 to thank the Giver, the Origin, is to arrive at the ultimate truth of things, the truth that is sought in logical thought, the truth of what things are; for in their deepest nature things are expressions of the love that moves the stars." 
 ~  p. 82 in Beauty in the Word.

Yes!! A writer who goes from Chesterton to Dante. 
 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Glorifying the Lord By Imitating Him



This is one of my paintings from long ago (seems like another life). I hang it in the kitchen, inspiring me to cook food everyone can enjoy! Though sometimes it is necessary to put away the poetry and the painting--they are luxuries, after all, not something that will bring in the bacon--but when we have the chance, we should pick up the brush and canvas, and the pen and paper. So this is what I'm doing this summer. It's been many years, because I was a little busy with three sweet boys to help educate. The other day I went to see an old friend and noticed a painting that I had done many years ago hanging in the living room. I snapped a shot of it...




What is closer to imitating God than attempting to be a creator? (Even though what we do is such a paltry imitation!)  When do people feel most alive and fulfilled except when they are creating something and imitating Him. Think of your carpenter husband creating a fine piece of furniture that he designed himself, a seamstress creating a costume, an artist painting a special picture, or a poet weaving words together to express a moment. Anyone who has ever created something feels that ecstatic sense of love whenever they've created something to share with others.

In Ephesians 2 we read, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do....(and in Chapter 5) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."  Ok, maybe it's a stretch to interpret this as meaning: go thee and paint pictures of God's creation, but to me it is a way of loving God and your neighbor!

If you have time for reading blogs like this, then you have time to write a book, or learn to paint! Here's a loose paraphrase from an article by C.S. Lewis, "Learning in War Time:"
If we don’t spend our free time reading great books (or blogs!), we’ll just use the time reading bad ones--or reading ridiculous tweets and silly things on Facebook. If we don’t use our time to pursue aesthetic pleasures, we’ll end up in sensual pleasures, such as drinking too many Hazelnut Macchiatos. We are cultural beings. If we abdicate our responsibility to engage in artistic endeavors for the glory of God, we will end up living in a barren, ugly culture.
And this is exactly what has happened. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

To know what we want in education...

"To know what we want in education we need to know what we want in general. We must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life." T. S. Eliot  in an essay entitled, "Modern Education and the Classics."
 
            In the classical education movement the struggle we have is with the mindset that promotes physical comfort, science, power through things (i.e. money) --these are the dominant values of our time. Many Christians don’t know how to reject this without just dropping out of culture altogether. For over a century we Americans have been permeated by a spirit of “pragmatism.” How do we convince ourselves that literature, art and poetry have real value? We can “sell” a literary education by pointing out the ways in which a deep language study helps a student in those highly valued professions of doctor, lawyer, preacher, or any professional career.  And most will acknowledge that its sort of nice to have a few Christian scholars who will teach humanities or philosophy in the universities.  But overall, we are swimming upstream in the culture of 21st century America. 

            But the Bible tells us that God created us in His image and tells us to imitate him.  Shouldn't this involve “being creative” in whatever way we can as humans. As Romans 12 says:
“Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. That ye may prove what is that good acceptable and perfect will of God.”
We can learn more and more about how to do this to His glory by studying the art and literary masterpieces of the past.  We can become wiser by understanding history thoroughly. And as CS Lewis put it, we can see the world and human experience through other people's eyes....hundreds and  hundreds of different eyes. We experience another human being's view of the world in many different eras of times and places.

The true ‘art of communication’ or rhetoric, in its classical sense, is developed by understanding the human condition and by understanding language. The word is more important than the quantifiable subjects, more essential to growing up in Christ, because it connects us to others. We believe these are important endeavors in order to become a truly loving Christian in this world.  The value of true Christian relationships with other homeschoolers is essential to making progress in restoring education. We need to take the time to laugh, and cry, with others about life, because as Ephesians 5:1-2 says: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."


  

Friday, June 21, 2013

What in the World Is the Trivium?



Asphodel
My heart rouses
        thinking to bring you news

                         of something
that concerns you
        and concerns many men. Look at
                         what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
        despised poems.
                         It is difficult
to get the news from poems
         yet men die miserably every day
                          for lack
of what is found there.

             ~ from Asphodel- That Greeny Flower  
                 by William Carlos Williams

 
'"Teach the Trivium." This has been a catchphrase of the classical education movement. Most people can tell it means three of something. But most people I encounter in our homeschooling circles are still very confused about what exactly ‘classical education’ or trivium mean. The Latin word trivium literally means “three roads" and was used to mean where three roads meet. The original use of the term for education was as an indication of the unity of the three aspects of the art of communication: the verbal arts.   

Many people now define the term trivium as a method (I am reminded of Ellul’s book on the modern rule of techne)--a technique of teaching that uses developmental stages, which I won't detail here. I'm sure you've probably heard the concept a few times. But throughout the centuries, since the Middle Ages, there were two 'stages' of education, the trivium and the quadrivium. The three subjects of the trivium were "grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric." When these were mastered a student went on to study the quadrivium--the four subjects: geometry, astronomy, music and arithmetic.  Together these made up what were known as the "seven liberal arts." Obviously (with the changing times) we need to change or add to some of the subjects, but when it comes to the first three, there seems to me to be something essential to education about these three in one...

1- Grammar: pursuing the parts of language so that a thought may develop. The first is working with individual words, phrases, and sentences. Doing such things as naming the different parts of speech, learn the meanings of words, and writing a sentence.

2- Dialectic/Logic: pursuing the syllogism, study of sentences and their relationship to each other, so that a new thought may be asserted. It is learning to put together units of thought (syllogism official logical terminology for the sake of the audience).....Taking a few sentences (premises) and coming up with a thesis and a conclusion.

3- Rhetoric: the pursuit of communication: turning these ideas around with others, in order to develop those new thoughts into a culture. This is the culmination of the use of language. And this is where the group comes in, and others to connect with is so crucial! Once a student has gotten a mastery of the first two, he or she can begin to effectively communicate and create ideas with others. We ultimately want to communicate with people in the flesh, but the student does not often have an appropriate friend or mentor to exchange ideas with, so this is why books are so important. The “others” may often be “other minds” via literature, this has been the most effective medium of communication of ideas in our culture for a long time. (more on this later)
 
Now, compare this process above with the rudimentary forms of these subjects that are left in our contemporary curriculum. We have divorced the study of vocabulary from any study of grammar or sentence analysis. We have taken a few principles of composition to make a quick and easy writing lesson. We are content with having quickly gotten the kids to cover this, so that we can be sure to spend many hours attempting to cram lots of data about many subjects in the child's head. Is this supposed to be more interesting for them? Is it supposed to show them off to the world? See what I know? Has a trivial pursuit been substituted for the pursuit of the trivium?