Trivium 21st Century
by Martin Robinson, Crown House Publishing.
Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past.
Trivium 21st Century by Martin Robinson has a surprising appeal, especially to those who may place themselves at the progressive end of the educational spectrum. You discover that Martin Robinson wants what we all want for our children. That is, schools where children can flourish without having their innate curiosity, creativity and love of life and learning crushed. This isn’t just a man in an ivory tower philosophizing from a detached stand point. This book is partly borne out of the frustrations of a father who wants the best for his daughter.
this is an extract – full review by Sophie Rees here
Understanding where we are today
The book summarizes the history of formal western education from its origins in classical antiquity. This is a helpful thing to understand if we want to be able to evaluate why we do what we do. We can’t just take for granted that ours is the best way to educate unless we know what the alternatives are or, in this case, the roots from which our current model has evolved.
The progressive, child centred model that exists in mainstream UK schools today is a relatively new one when compared with 2000 years of educational ideas and methods. The divergence has been a slow process. Much of it has taken place over the last century or so, but the roots of it began in the enlightenment. Trivium 21st Century by Martin Robinson helps us understand where we are today and why.
Robinson introduces us to the idea of the trivium or the “three ways”: three roads to knowledge wisdom and virtue. These are summarized in the words:
- grammar (not to be confused with our modern day use of the word, but rather representing our cultural heritage or shared knowledge),
- dialectic (the use of logic and argument and the pursuit of an ideal)
- rhetoric (the meeting place where we learn to express ourselves articulately and persuasively in engagement with others).
Learn from the past
I am not certain whether everyone involved in classical education today would agree exactly with the detail of Robinson’s own summary of these three and their application in the 21st Century. However, there is much to agree on. He has the courage to take a step back and consider the possibility that we may have something to learn from the past, which is not an idea we hear very often in our individualized western culture today. I also agree with the idea that the trivium embodies an approach to education which needs to be recovered (however we apply it in practice), because it is based on a wholistic view of a person as mind, body, heart and soul. Like Robinson, I think there is a deep human desire in all of us for meaning and significance, something which rises above mere utility. The Classical model of the trivium was based on this understanding of human personhood, I think it has much to offer and therefore needs our careful consideration. In order to know how to educate a person, we must first of all understand what it means to be a person. The classical ideal sought to do this.
Robinson also explores the idea that the Trivium 21st Century can appeal to both ends of the educational spectrum – grammar for the traditionalists, dialectic for the progressives and rhetoric as the meeting place for these two extremes.
Our educational debate has become too polarized and exploring some of Robinson’s ideas could help us find some common ground. He interviews people from both sides of the political and educational debate and shows how we have more in common than we might think. We need to address the problem of communication that is too often focused around social media which does not allow for nuance. In order to make progress we need to take the time to read and think more deeply. I suppose it is fitting that the Trivium 21st Century, if applied well, can provide us with the tools to do so.
Ideas rather than methods
The book also asks a very important question: is a secular approach to the trivium possible? I love the fact that he is asking this question! It represents a shift which I have seen in other books in recent years which seem to be addressing ideas rather than just methods. This is crucial because ideas shape our methods and if our ideas are wrong then our methods cannot help us.
I’m not sure that Robinson clearly answers the question for himself. I agree with him holding out the trivium as a helpful model which can be applied in any century because it is shaped by the needs of the person.
A knowledgeable or a good person?
Robinson shows how the trivium’s goal is (and always has been) that of
- virtue (good character)
- human flourishing
all stand in stark contrast to the utilitarian model we have today with its emphasis on passing tests. He argues this by saying that when faced with a choice between a knowledgeable man and a good one we will always choose the good. This is another point that should appeal widely to all those dissatisfied with our exams-driven system but is also commendable because, again, it reflects what we instinctively know to be true about human personhood.
Knowledge and skills have their place in education but only as servants to the greater goal – that of character development. The aims-based “authentic curriculum” that Robinson argues for could definitely help us break the cycle of constant change.
If you want to see children leaving school as knowledgeable, skilled and well rounded citizens, Robinson’s book Trivium 21st Century is definitely worth a read.
By Sophie Rees of NourishED. ‘Education that feeds the whole person’.
read the full review at NourishED
This post is part of a series of book reviews for Crown House publishing, all titles on creativity in education and exploring ways to bring the classroom alive. Including Sue Crowley’s Artful Educator, Kenny Pieper’s Reading for Pleasure and Den Building by Cathy Cross and Jane Hewitt