Mr. Patch Blakey, Executive Director of the Association of Classical & Christian Schools, has written an article entitled “Why Only the Trivium?” for publication on the Veritas Academy Blog. In this the the third and final installment, Mr. Blakey discusses how the ACCS (and also Veritas Academy) apply the trivium to Classical Christian Education. A pdf of the entire three part article is available for download here.
This approach, identified by Dorothy Sayers, is the one that the Association of Classical & Christian Schools (ACCS) has committed itself to and actively promotes. That is, ACCS agrees with Sayers that the Trivium includes both age-appropriate instruction as well as its application broadly to all subjects. With regard to the latter, every subject has a grammar to it, that is, it has essential components and vocabulary which must be learned by students; a logic or proper ordering of those components; and a rhetoric, the proper communication and application of the subject. ACCS has seen the positive and successful results of this application of the Trivium in numerous schools over the years. The success is evident in those schools that ACCS accredits and in the standardized test scores compiled by ACCS from its member schools.
Some may object that ACCS does not promote all of the seven liberal arts which include the Quadrivium in addition to the Trivium. ACCS would cheerfully concur. The objective of ACCS is to promote what Sayers called the “tools of learning.” From the perspective of ACCS, the Quadrivium represents subjects that are to be approached and studied once the tools of learning have been mastered. ACCS schools focus on instruction in the Trivium, the tools of learning, so that students will grow up to be lifelong learners, able to effectively apply the tools to any subject. Again as Sayers noted in her closing comment, “The sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.”[i]
Others may protest that ACCS is not being true to the historical application of the Trivium as it was initially developed and promoted by our ancient forebears. There are proponents of the classical Christian approach who argue that the Trivium consists only of three specific areas of study with regard to language and the ability to speak clearly and persuasively; but that it does not comprise a method that can be applied to other subjects outside the limited study of verbal and written grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Again, ACCS would cheerfully agree that ACCS takes a broader view of the Trivium. Dorothy Sayers’ observations are of great value in the instructional process and ACCS does not want to revert to an instructional methodology that had not yet made these insightful connections.[ii]
Does this mean that ACCS does not promote or encourage the study of math, science, and music in a student’s instruction? To the contrary, all of these subjects are present in ACCS member schools, and are required for ACCS accreditation. Because of the ACCS focus on the Sayers approach to the Trivium, these subjects are taught with that in mind; they are presented to students in an age-appr0priate fashion so that the instruction coincides with the students’ developmental stages.
Others might question what is wrong with just providing the grammar and the dialectic stages at a school that only goes through the eighth grade? ACCS maintains that the grammar and dialectic stages are preliminary to the rhetoric stage, the capstone of a classical Christian education. To only provide a student with the first two stages isn’t just omitting a third of the learning process, but it rather misses the whole process altogether. As Augustine wrote:
“Now, the art of rhetoric being available for the enforcing either of truth or falsehood, who will dare to say that truth in the person of its defenders is to take its stand unarmed against falsehood? For example, that those who are trying to persuade men of what is false are to know how to introduce their subject, so as to put the hearer into a friendly, or attentive, or teachable frame of mind, while the defenders of the truth shall be ignorant of that art? That the former are to tell their falsehoods briefly, clearly, and plausibly, while the latter shall tell the truth in such a way that it is tedious to listen to, hard to understand, and, in fine, not easy to believe it? That the former are to oppose, to melt, to enliven, and to rouse them, while the latter shall in defense of the truth be sluggish, and frigid, and somnolent? Who is such a fool as to think this wisdom? Since, then, the faculty of eloquence is available for both sides, and is of very great service in the enforcing either of wrong or right, why do not good men study to engage it on the side of truth, when bad men use it to obtain the triumph of wicked and worthless causes, and to further injustice and error?”[iii]
The Trivium is important; it represents what Dorothy Sayers called the “Lost Tools of Learning.” ACCS is committed to recovering the Trivium, to restoring the knowledge and application of these tools through classical Christian schools. They work and this fact is attested to by the growing resurgence of classical Christian schools around the world.
[i] Douglas Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1991, appendix A, Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning, p.164
[ii] See Douglas Wilson, Defending Sayers’ Insight, 2008 ACCS Conference workshop
[iii] Augustine, “On Christian Doctrine”