Authors and historians have used several methods of describing the three Trivium phases. Dorothy Sayers used the alliterative Poll-parrot (for the fundamental Grammar phase), Pert (for the inquisitive Logic phase), and Poetic (for the expressive Rhetoric phase). As a Christian school, we also find an appropriate parallel in the biblical progression from knowledge to understanding to wisdom. In Exodus 35:31 Moses commends Bezalel by observing that he was filled with “the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills.”It’s even possible to summarize the Trivium using the tersest of mnemonics– . ? ! — symbolizing Grammar as the ‘what’ (expressed as a factual statement ending in a period.), Logic as the ‘why’ (symbolized with a question mark?), and Rhetoric as the ‘how’ (expressed with an enthusiastic exclamation point!)
Let’s add another illustration to the pile, hopefully adding some perspective on how we view the Trivium at TCS.
The Trivium as a jigsaw puzzle
The third phase of the Trivium phase, Rhetoric (9th through 12th), is like describing the completed puzzle and explaining the story behind it. There is meaning and application that can be extracted from the completed puzzle, beyond the cardboard pieces and the assembled image. What can we say about the image depicted? What does it represent? Why is it important? How did a castle like Neuschwanstein come to be built? What motivated Ludwig to build this? What were the consequences? What lessons can we apply to our life?
The Trivium applied to learning history
We can trace the direct effect of the Trivium on how TCS students learn history. TCS students memorize a Grammar of History timeline spanning from Creation to the present. Learning the 79 timeline “pegs” (which consist of dates and events) allows students to mentally hang subsequent learning on or near a peg, developing a mastery of key events in world history. In the Logic phase students begin to inquire about the “why” of the events. Not just when was World War I fought, but what motivated the alliances? What was each country’s objective? What affect did this war have on World War II? In the Rhetoric phase, students are expected to clearly express an opinion, develop a thesis, and support it with facts and logic from the prior Trivium phases.
The Trivium applied to learning science
We also need to remember that the Trivium principles can apply equally well to math, science, and technology. Let’s look at chemistry as an example. In third grade chemistry (Grammar phase) TCS students get the puzzle pieces. The pieces include electrons, atoms, molecules, compounds, mixtures, acids, and bases. Students learn the difference between each of these. Student learn about pH, electron orbits, atomic weights, and types of reactions. When TCS students revisit chemistry in the seventh grade (Logic phase) they will assemble the pieces. The assembly process involves asking a lot of questions: What is the logic behind the order of the periodic table? What’s so “noble” about the noble gases? Why is copper such a good conductor of electricity? What’s the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry? In eleventh grade chemistry (Rhetoric phase), TCS students will combine their knowledge from the Grammar phase and their understanding from the Logic phase to observe phenomena, make calcuations, and articulate outcomes. How can we use our understanding to balance an equation? Can we predict what will happen when we mix two compounds? How does the Arrhenius concept apply to this problem?
So if trivium education is a jigsaw puzzle, Grammar school is about giving the students puzzle pieces, Logic school is about students learning to put those pieces together, and the main agenda of Rhetoric school is standing over the picture, viewing it, thinking about it, articulating what they see, and creating new applications and insights.