The Modern Trivium: triumph of tradition or trivial gimmick?
From bringing back grammar schools to why so many new teachers quit their jobs, it can often seem like contemporary debates in education always end up splitting along the familiar and tired battle lines of ‘progressive’ versus ‘traditionalist’.
Into this stasis has pitched former drama teacher and prolific blogger Martin Robinson, aiming to unite both sides by using the principles of a classical liberal arts education. In his book Trivium 21c: preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past, he proposed that the three arts of the ancient trivium – grammar, dialectic and rhetoric – can be rediscovered in schools today to bring together those who believe all learning is based on knowledge with those who put the emphasis on skills and self-expression. Described as ‘essential reading’ by the head teachers’ union ASCL, the book has had a significant impact on the educational world with Robinson now in demand as a speaker and consultant at schools ranging from Eton and Wellington College to inner-city comprehensives.
But as more schools start to appoint a head of trivium, shouldn’t we be asking whether this is just yet another educational gimmick given respectability via a bit of historical gloss? Is today’s trivium really about the great classical emphasis on knowledge and learning for its own sake, or is it an alternative way of talking about thinking skills using the language of the past? And how does it help to view subjects such as physics, chemistry and computer science as ‘arts’ anyway? What relevance can a Medieval teaching system have for education today?
Listen to the opening remarks:
author, Trivium 21c: preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past