The Classical (Trivium-based) Approach
When we say “classical education,” we mean an educational approach rooted in the medieval concept of the Trivium (Latin for “three ways”). Each element of the Trivium–grammar, logic, and rhetoric–is viewed not just as a subject but as a tool for learning. A student who has mastered the tools will be able to think and learn for themselves and thus be able to master any subject they approach.
Dorothy Sayers, a Christian writer and thinker who was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis, explained the Trivium in her essay, The Lost Tools of Learning. She writes that children grow naturally through three stages: the “poll-parrot,” “pert” and “poetic.” Each stage corresponds to the three elements of the Trivium, Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric so children benefit from the best tools at just the right time.
The elementary years (Sayers’s “poll-parrot” stage) correspond to the Grammar stage of the Trivium. In the Grammar stage, students take in the core knowledge of each subject by memorizing the basic facts and fundamental rules related to that subject. In the middle school years (the “pert” stage), children grow into the Logic or Dialectic stage. At this age they are beginning to think abstractly and are able to relate and understand all the facts they have previously accumulated. They are therefore taught sound reasoning and critical thinking skills. The third stage of the Trivium is the Rhetoric stage (the “poetic” stage), which corresponds to high school. This is the age when young people become more concerned about their appearance and how they express themselves. So, correspondingly, students in this stage are taught how to express themselves and communicate their ideas in an effective and eloquent manner, learning to be articulate, persuasive and creative in their written and oral communication.