Traditionally, the classical model consists of two modes of study—the Trivium and Quadrivium.
The Trivium lays the foundation for lifelong learning by emphasizing three skills—grammar, dialectic (logic), and rhetoric. Since most classical pre-K through high school programs focus on this phase of the classical model (including our own Classical Conversations® programs), we’ll focus our attention here in this post by explaining what the Trivium is in classical education, starting with an easy-to-understand Trivium definition.
A Simple Trivium Definition
In Latin, the word trivium means “the place where three roads meet.” Therefore, the classical education Trivium consists of learning and practicing three arts—or skills—referred to as grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric.
Consider a simple analogy to understand the Trivium arts before we explore them in more detail: grammar is the inputting of data, dialectic is the processing of data, and rhetoric is the outputting of data.
Of course, this flawed comparison is not intended to reduce students to the likes of computers or machines. Still, when asked to define the Trivium, it can be a helpful aid in our understanding. So, without lingering any longer, let’s dive in to the Trivium method!
The word grammar is often associated with languages—English grammar, Spanish grammar, Latin grammar. However, we can apply to concept of grammar more broadly.
Consider each subject, trade, or topic as having its own grammar, or foundational knowledge. To understand something fully, whether its math or baseball or a new job, you need to first understand the basic vocabulary and ideas of that thing (i.e., its grammar).
Naturally, then, grammar is the first of the classical Trivium arts. In classical education programs, grammar is emphasized in student’s younger years by providing opportunities for memorization through recitation and repetition.
Classical education capitalizes on these formative years by introducing students to the foundational knowledge, or grammar, of subjects they will study in more detail down the road. In other words, returning to our original analogy, grammar is the inputting of data.
Read: “What Are the Five Core Habits of Grammar?”
In our imperfect computer-terms analogy, dialectic is the processing of data.
Dialectic—often simply referred to as “logic”—refers to logical, critical thinking. This often manifests as asking good questions about a subject to better understand it.
In classical education, students around age 9 and up are introduced to the skill of dialectic. Because this is often a period in children’s development when they are prone to asking questions, practicing dialectic is a natural progression from practicing grammar.
Ultimately, the goal of dialectic is to practice thinking through ideas and situations to understand the truth of something. In other words, dialectic is all about asking questions prefaced with “why” and “how” rather than “what.”
For example, a grammar student might memorize where countries’ borders are on a map, but a dialectic student will consider why and how those borders were established. Was there a war fought and a treaty signed? Or did one country just set up its borders and they have remained unquestioned?
Read: “What Are the Five Common Topics of Dialectic?”
The final classical Trivium art is rhetoric. For some, the word rhetoric may suggest scheming politicians, convincing propaganda, or persuasive advertising. However, in the classical sense, these are far from accurate representations of what rhetoric is.
Classically, the skill of rhetoric is used to persuade others toward truth. It’s a tool to be used wisely and carefully, and for classical, Christian students, it can be used to help minister to unbelievers.
So, to conclude the analogy posed at the beginning of this post, rhetoric is the outputting of data. After gaining foundational knowledge by practicing grammar and acquiring understanding by applying dialectic, classical students are ready to venture into studying the skill of rhetoric.
In many classical education programs, rhetoric is emphasized in students’ high school-equivalent years through projects and activities such as debates and presentations. For instance, in addition to these exercises, our Classical Conversations Challenge programs include student-led discussions in which a student poses questions to their peers and facilitates the following conversation.
Read: “What Are the Five Canons of Rhetoric?”
How Classical Conversations Uses the Trivium Method
We hope the Trivium definition laid out in this post helps you grasp this classical concept better! The Trivium method is a powerful approach to education, and we at Classical Conversations believe that when students practice these three arts, they can become lifelong learners, strong critical thinkers, and capable conversationalists who are motivated to seek and defend truth.
That’s why our homeschool programs emphasize the skills of the Trivium. This classical approach, paired with a Christ-centered worldview and community-based learning, is what makes homeschooling with Classical Conversations so special!
If you’re interested in learning more about how our programs approach homeschooling with the Trivium, click here. We’d love to hear from you!