The Trivium of Classical Education
The word “trivium” comes from the Latin prefix “tri” meaning “three”, and the Latin root “via” meaning “way”, or “road”. The literal meaning of the word, is “the three-fold way or road”. The trivium refers to the three stages, or pathways of learning that directly correlate to the cognitive development of children. From ancient time, scholars have studied the development process of children from an early age to young adult. Their findings were the same, children learn in three basic stages: grammar, dialectic (logic), and rhetoric.
The Grammar Stage also known as the ”Polly Parrot” stage; refers to the earliest stages in children’s cognitive development where they recall chunks of information. This is done largely through rote memorization, drill and practice, facts, song, rhyme, and chants. A concentration is placed on learning concretely. The elementary school years are foundational to a child’s education. And so the grammar stage is providing stepping stones of learning to bridge the way to more abstract learning.
At Seven Hills Classical Academy, students are predominately in the grammar stage for the entirety of their time with us. As students mature and are able to grasp more abstract concepts, logic is introduced in the latter part of the fifth grade.
Logic or Dialectic Stage is referred to as the stage of reasoning. It is in the logic state where cognitive development shifts from concrete to more analytical. Adolescents learn the “art of argument”, debate, and forming their opinion. The logic student is not comfortable with merely reading about a subject, but seeks to know more through questioning. What is the purpose? Why is that so? How does that work? The facts of the grammar stage are tested to see whether or not what they learned previously is accurate. It is perfectly reasonable to expect students to argue and question. What is critical is modeling for students how to question and reason with respect. Students in the logic stage are typically in middle school and beginning high school.
Rhetoric Stage begins in the high school years and goes into young adulthood. Here, cognitive development has reached maturity. The student has progressed through the stages to now learn the "art of articulation". In the rhetoric stage, students refine their knowledge through well-developed speech, vocabulary, dialogue, and decorum. Applications of learning take effect as students grasp the true meaning of a subject and are now able to examine theory. Mastering subjects and beginning more advanced, college-level studies are pursued.
These three stages make up the Trivium of Classical Education.