Teaching the Trivium and Two Books I Liked Better

I think it’s interesting to read about how other families approach things, especially when it comes to education.  In that sense, I thought Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style was worth my time even though I found myself disagreeing fundamentally with the authors on several key points. 

The authors of the book write about classical education in the sense of following the trivium model (very basically, that young children should learn lots of facts, the middle years can be used to begin putting things together, and high school is the time to analyze the information), but not in the sense of really reading the classics or following a classical curriculum as it has been used through the ages.  The book discusses some classics, but the authors believe that books that don’t conform to Biblical standards and worldview are not important to study.

I disagree with the authors profoundly on this point.  I think that all truth is God’s truth, and that the classics inform all of literature.  We can’t interact with and transform our culture if we don’t understand it and aren’t able to analyze it and present a counterpoint.  The authors argue that it’s unimportant to understand some of the very basic pieces of the Western canon of literature, and they are right that most people don’t these days, but that doesn’t mean those people are well educated.  I think it’s possible to read and appreciate classical sources without conforming to the worldviews contained therein, and really it comes down to how that literature is taught and presented and dealt with in the classroom or homeschool. 

Aside from the curriculum limitations, I thought the authors did a good job of explaining the rationale behind different ways to teach language, why one might want to teach Latin in the formative years, and how the study of foreign languages aids the understanding of English grammar.  Personally I will probably not wind up teaching my children Hebrew, although I appreciate the authors reasons for adding Hebrew to Latin and Greek.  I’d like to do Greek, but we might not get there, realistically. 

Another interesting topic the book touches on is the reasoning and background for delaying formal math instruction until age 10 (and by formal they mean textbook/workbook style, not keeping math knowledge from kids – the informal math would be using manipulatives, counting, basic math functions and fractions and ideas found in everyday life and concrete situations).  I’m not sure how I will handle that with my kids, but I have read several other studies and articles recently about how children who don’t do math drills and textbooks until the 9-10 age range can learn the equivalent of 6 years of early elementary math in a matter of weeks and don’t wind up hating math like many kids do who start too early.  It is more efficient to teach concepts when children are really ready to understand and interact with them.  However, I do think there are ways to teach math that keep kids from burning out too early or missing something, such as methods that incorporate a lot of visuals, manipulatives, games, and so forth.  We’re probably going to use Math-U-See with Hannah next year for kindergarten, and I think it’s a gentle yet logical and rigorous approach. 

Although I don’t regret reading Teaching the Trivium and it may be quite helpful to others, I wouldn’t recommend it as highly as some other books on classical education.  I mean no disrespect to the authors, but I disagreed with too many points in this book to recommend it highly.  Unless you really want to read a lot of books about homeschooling in general and classical schooling in particular I think you would be better off reading The Well-Trained Mind or  The Case for Classical Christian Education to get a feel for what a classical education can look like within a private, Christian, and/or homeschool framework. 

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5 thoughts on “Teaching the Trivium and Two Books I Liked Better

  1. I’m curious about the articles you mentioned about math. My 6-year-old has struggled with several concepts in math and it’s been kind of discouraging and so this caught my attention. They’re very basic things and I feel like just dropping it for awhile. I’d love to read the articles, if they’re available.

    1. Rachel, I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner (we were out of town). I wish I could give you specific links for the mentions about delaying formal math, but I have just read them here and there online and in books and haven’t book marked them. It wasn’t until I was thinking about the Bluedorn’s approach that I realized how many other mentions I had read about similar ideas. I think if you google delayed formal math instruction or a similar phrase you might find something to start with, or you might see if your library has Teaching the Trivium so that you can read the math section it contains. I wish I could be of more help!

  2. If you’re interested in other related books, you should check out both “The Latin-Centered Curriculum” by Drew Campbell and “The Devil Knows Latin” by E. Christian Kopff. The second is probably available at the library. You can borrow my copy of the first sometime. I wouldn’t recommend reading either cover to cover, but they both have great sections. Drew Campbell’s book has a good introduction or first chapter talking about classical education–the history of it, what different people mean when they say it, etc…

    “The Devil Knows Latin” has the best extended argument I’ve seen for why we should teach our kids Latin. I copied a couple of pages and refer to them when I need to be reminded of my purpose. It’s also just refreshing to read something on education that comes from outside the world of Christian homeschooling.

    It would be fun to get together and talk philosophy sometime 🙂

    Merry Christmas!

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