Bring Back the Trivium!

 

Some valid inferences in categorical logic.  Long live the Trivium!The world is a complicated place; it’s hard to trace all the world’s problems back to their few root causes. But surely a lack of education is one of them–and, sad to say, a presence of miseducation. To be precise: A lack of good education is one of the root problems.

So what makes a good education? I was raised with the idea that Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic were fundamentals in education, and I don’t disagree with that now. The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers was a wonderful discovery in college. It turns out that there are some other fundamentals, the lost tools of the Trivium: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric–or language, logic, and rhetoric. This is the old way of doing education. One of its surviving relics is the term “grammar school.” (Also, alongside the old and broken, yet newfangled, education system, a renewed, yet ancient and time-tested, education system has sprung up on this model–largely because of the influence of Sayers’ essay [examples here and here].)

The Trivium system relies largely on patterns. The patterns of Latin: sumesestsumusestissunt; oasatamusatisant; and others (so many others!).  The patterns of Logic: All M are P; all S are M; therefore all S are P; and others.

Patterns matter. There are instincts we humans are naturally born with (or have been born with ever since the primal sin first corrupted human nature): Thinking we have a right to our own way no matter how it affects others, thinking we have a right to what we want now no matter the consequences later–as if our desires could impose themselves on reality and bend it to our arrogant, tiny human wills.

A nice remark by Thomas Sowell captures the uncivilized nature of these human instincts. And this is why patterns matter: Good patterns–patterns that help us remember facts, patterns of rational thought, patterns of ordered speech, patterns of virtuous life–are civilizing and edifying things.

The student who is trained in the Trivium is trained to think, from his youngest years, that some answers are simply correct and some simply are not. Sumesest, sumus, estis, sunt is right. Something like Sumestetsimyeheedant is wrong.

The student is trained to think that some patterns of thought are correct. All M are P; All S are M; therefore all S are P is correct.  You disagree with the fashionable views of younger and more powerful people; therefore shut up! is incorrect.

The student becomes accustomed to using the correct patterns of thought. And, in the rhetoric stage of his education, he learns to apply the correct patterns in public speech, in public debate, or in writing.

And these are good things: edifying, educating, and civilizing things.  These are things it would be good to have more of in ourselves, our families, our communities, our country.

I’m not saying that we should go back to being medievals (though that would be much better than proceeding onward into full-blown postmodern moral relativism), or that we shouldn’t teach science, or that we shouldn’t teach students to think for themselves (quite the contrary!) or to employ “critical thinking” (which, if it’s a good thing, must surely be about 90% the same as logical thinking anyway).

am saying that I think a healthy infusion of Trivium education would help improve education in America.

How to do it I can hardly guess, and maybe it’s better that way.  (I can’t exactly plan an educational system for an entire country.) But here are a few ideas that a few of us might be able to employ, making things a little better in little ways, building from the ground up.  If I’m right about the value of the Trivium, then some of you Ricocheters can try these and add your own ideas.

  • We could learn to see the benefit of learning a dead language precisely because you won’t ever speak it; because you are learning it instead in order to see how language works and in order to learn some good patterns.
  • We could try teaching Latin to our own kids at home (1 or 2 hours a week, starting with some basic patterns).
  • People who make decisions about what courses are counted towards a degree might opt to include an optional, or a required, logic component.

There are 67 comments.

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  1. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    This is my first try at starting my own conversation at Ricochet.  Comments welcome! (The Sunday Sabbath starts about now in my time zone, and I’m very busy, so I may be lax in responding to comments.)

    • #1
  2. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @MrAmy

    If money permits, this is how Amy and I want to homeschool.

    • #2
  3. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Sounds rather Jesuitical.

    • #3
  4. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    MrAmy:If money permits, this is how Amy and I want to homeschool.

    With the modern trivium, or the traditional one followed by the Quadrivium, followed by education in one of the two scholarly subjects, (Theology or Law) or their red headed stepchild, Medicine?

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Moar math!

    Otherwise, it sounds good.

    Hail and well met, Mark!

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Percival:Moar math!

    Otherwise, it sounds good.

    Hail and well met, Mark!

    Well, I dig Plato’s Republic.  So I dig math, and a Quadrivium of some sort.

    (And I even think numbers exist.)

    • #6
  7. Gwen Novak Member
    Gwen Novak
    @GwenNovak

    I’m classically homeschooling my kids. Although I do add in more STEM because…

    • #7
  8. Mama Toad Member
    Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I currently homeschool five, ages 6-15. My oldest is in college (National Merit Scholar, perfect SAT scores).

    My tadpoles study Latin. We do lots of memorization: poetry, times tables, mental math calculation, classical logic. One of my favorite resources is Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.

    It’s good for all of us.

    • #8
  9. Gwen Novak Member
    Gwen Novak
    @GwenNovak

    How does that compare to well trained mind? I was feeling lazy this year and incredibly busy finishing up my mothers estate so I went with memoria press.

    • #9
  10. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Where might a public school educated adult begin to get a classic education?

    • #10
  11. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    MLH:Where might a public school educated adult begin to get a classic education?

    I don’t think I’m the best person to answer that question, so if anyone knows how to answer that question better than I do, please reply to MLH!

    In the meantime, I can hazard suggestions that should be a bit better than nothing:

    • Take cheap Latin and Logic classes at the local community college.
    • Get cheap used textbooks on Amazon that work well for self-study.  (Hint: Not Wheelock’s Latin!)  (Hint: For Logic, this text should work very well: the first two chapters, the chapter(s) on informal fallacies, and the chapters on categorical logic for a start.)
    • #11
  12. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    MLH:Where might a public school educated adult begin to get a classic education?

    I think Hillsdale College offers free on-line courses that may be useful.

    • #12
  13. jzdro Member
    jzdro
    @jzdro

    MLH

    Where might a public school educated adult begin to get a classic education?”

    Hi MLH,

    I love your hat.  You look stunning in it. Chic!

    For when you are caught up on your Latin or Logic homework that people want you doing, here are a few titles:

    Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, 1940

    Sr. Miriam Joseph, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric; Understanding the Nature and Function of Language, 2002

    Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. 1999     (This is a guide for homeschooling parents.)

    Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, 2003

    Hi Mark Boone – Thanks so much for pointing up the Sayers essay.  Good luck in your endeavors to reverse the trend described therein:  The truth is that for the last three hundred years or so we have been living upon our educational capital.”  Scary stuff.

    • #13
  14. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    jzdro:“MLH

    Where might a public school educated adult begin to get a classic education?”

    Hi MLH,

    I love your hat. You look stunning in it. Chic!

    For when you are caught up on your Latin or Logic homework that people want you doing, here are a few titles:

    Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, 1940

    Sr. Miriam Joseph, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric; Understanding the Nature and Function of Language, 2002

    Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. 1999 (This is a guide for homeschooling parents.)

    Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, 2003

    Hi Mark Boone – Thanks so much for pointing up the Sayers essay. Good luck in your endeavors to reverse the trend described therein:

    Thanks, jzdro. BTW: it’s a comb.

    • #14
  15. jzdro Member
    jzdro
    @jzdro

    MLH:

    Thanks, jzdro. BTW: it’s a comb.

    It is the very best comb in the world.

    • #15
  16. user_998621 Member
    user_998621
    @Liz

    We use the classical model in our homeschool, too.

    • #16
  17. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Apparently if I add an image I go right back to the top of the member feed.  How nice for me.  I feel like I’m stealing attention from other folks’ newer posts, though.  It feels kinda wrong.

    • #17
  18. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Mark Boone:Apparently if I add an image I go right back to the top of the member feed. How nice for me. I feel like I’m stealing attention from other folks’ newer posts, though. It feels kinda wrong.

    Yep, kind of wrong. But not your fault.It’s on the bugs-to-fix list. Nice graphic, too.

    Keeping education in the fore is, I think, important as it is the way to get the country back.

    • #18
  19. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Don’t feel bad about the graphic – I recognized the graphic as the square of opposition, and it made me curious as to how that could possibly spark a discussion. It caught my eye, which means the graphic did its job.

    The Trivium was a staple of education for centuries. It trained minds. Like the Karate Kid, “wash the car” and “paint the fence” accomplished a lot more than sitting around a circle and sharing our feelings about math – to use an egregious oversimplification.

    Wash the car. Paint the fence.

    • #19
  20. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    Thanks for the bump up. I missed it before and I have The Lost Tools of Learning on my Kindle. I have been toying with the idea of starting soon. Looks like I’ll start it today.

    • #20
  21. Ricochet Moderator
    Ricochet
    @DougWatt

    Unfortunately we are in an age where students are taught what to think rather than how to think. Critical thinking skills are a danger to those professors and teachers that have no critical thinking skills. The head resident of my dorm was also my philosophy professor as well as a priest. One day he told us that the goal of a good professor is to develop students that surpass the professor in understanding and knowledge. One does not produce that student by having them parrot platitudes.

    • #21
  22. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I wasn’t taught the basics of logic and reasoning until I took an (elective!) Philosophy course in my second year of university.  The material taught in that course was HARDLY too advanced for high school students.

    • #22
  23. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Misthiocracy:I wasn’t taught the basics of logic and reasoning until I took an (elective!) Philosophy course in my second year of university. The material taught in that course was HARDLY too advanced for high school students.

    I’d agree – logic is what I studied in college and grad school, but that doesn’t mean that can only be studied in college and grad school.

    Basically, logic (and reasoning) is about commitment. What do your words commit you to? Different “logics” commit you differently. For instance, “All X is blue” commits you one way, but what does “All X should be blue” commit you to? (Deontic logic.) What does “All X might be blue” commit you to? (Modal logic.) There are different rules about commitment, based on the type of assertion you make.

    The flavors of how you’re committed may vary, but they’re all basically about commitment. The fun of logic, though, is appreciating how many commitments you make through your language, and learning the art of spotting where they conflict.

    Reason, in turn, uses that notion of commitment to make your thoughts consistent. Reason is a discipline whereby if you commit to one assertion, you can’t make a different assertion later on that conflicts with the first. Reason is almost a social promise in which you assure others that you won’t violate your commitments.

    I can teach a student what and how his words commit him to (i.e., logic), but whether he is willing to abide by those commitments (i.e., reason) is up to him. You can lead a horse to logic, but you can’t make him reason.

    • #23
  24. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    For logic, let me point out Raymond Smullyan’s Logical Labyrinths, which begins as a fun puzzle book and ends with mastery of some of the most powerful approaches to first-order logic we know. Highly recommended.

    • #24
  25. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Indeed. Bring it back. But I can’t promote this. You know why?

    sumesestsumusestissunt.

    Not estes.

    Let’s recite them together.

    Sumesestsumusestissunt.

    Sumesestsumusestissunt.

    Sumesestsumusestissunt.

    Bring back the Trivium.

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Doug Watt:Unfortunately we are in an age where students are taught what to think rather than how to think. Critical thinking skills are a danger to those professors and teachers that have no critical thinking skills.

    Great article in today’s National Post that explores this very theme:

    Since the late 1960s, universities have considered it their mission to teach students what rather than how to think. Students soon internalize the catechism, summed up in the Twitter hashtag #whiteprivilege, meaning: Western civilization thrived on white, Christian, Euro-centric aggression against Others; Western literature and art are the patriarchy’s handmaidens; the university’s mission is to further a just society and empower the wretched of the Earth; objective “knowledge” is a tool for one dominant race, gender and sexuality to oppress the powerless; reason is but one “way of knowing”; any opposition to identity politics and multiculturalism is racism; there are no hierarchies in cultural values — in matters of gender, art and family, all manifestations are equally valid; and most insidiously, acknowledging and rewarding objective merit is considered an “institutionalized form of racism and classism.”

    Source: http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/11/barbara-kay-universities-are-teaching-students-what-to-think-not-how-to-think/

    • #26
  27. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    By the way, if anyone thinks I’m being snotty here, I’m definitely not. He’s right. If you force enough of the Trivium on your kids, stuff that’s wrong will just sound wrong. I’m proof that he’s right on the general argument.

    But believe me, no kid wants to learn any of this, and traditionally, kids had to be lashed to learn it. I’m pretty sure that we’d have to bring that back, too. So it’s that or Option B, which is how it happened to me: If you’ve got two kids, make their sibling rivalry work for you.

    You may, of course, end up with kids who are insane. Up to you if you want to risk taking that shortcut to the Trivium, but it seems to have worked for my father. So far we’re both still alive.

    YMMV.

    • #27
  28. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Claire Berlinski

    Indeed. Bring it back. But I can’t promote this. You know why?

    sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt.

    Not estes.

    Let’s recite them together.

    Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt.

    Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt.

    Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt.

    Bring back the Trivium.

    Romanes eunt domus!

    • #28
  29. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    How about creating a curriculum for home schoolers so they can choose this?  We all know that the only real choice in education is home schooling.

    Here’s a working example of home schooling curriculum:

    http://www.ronpaulcurriculum.com/

    • #29
  30. Mama Toad Member
    Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Rident stolidi verba Latina!

    • #30

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