Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Trivium

I support the Utah voucher initiative because I think it will lead to a Renaissance in teaching techniques and new curriculums which will expand learning opportunities for all students.

One interesting development is that many of the new private schools are working to revive the Trivium in primary education. The trivium was the basis of Western education from ancient to modern times. The trivium was the core of the classical liberal education.

The US founders received a classical education. Subsequent generations started falling under the sway of education theories based on Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Marx. The trivium had its last hoorahs in the days of John Dewey who brought forth a Hegelian style ideology called Pragmatism.

IMHO, all of the manifestations of this Hegelian style ideology lead to totalitarianism. This will happen even when the people pretend they don't have an ideology. A good example is the present voucher debate where school teachers, who all proclaim adherence to the gods of diversity, are horrified by the prospect of real diversity that would result if there was an open market in education.

The Trivium is something that bloggers might find of interest.

The primary focus of the trivium is the development and communication of ideas. Please note, the trivium is abstract. You might want to read The Trivium by Sister Mariam Joseph.

The three legs of the trivium are grammar, logic and rhetoric. Yes, the classical world held rhetoric in high esteem.

Grammar is simply the study of the way language works. The western world has incredible rich, beautiful, multidimensional languages. The trivium taught the beauty of language. Poetry was held in esteem. The new think of modern education reduces language to its bare utility.

Logic (also known as analytics) is the study of ideas and how ideas fit together.

From my perspective as a mathematician, the decision of the modern education establishment to rip logic out of the curriculum stands among the crimes against humanity of the modern age. The dictators at the head of the education establishment have stolen our ability to engage in high quality reason.

Instead of learning how to reason, the modern education simply teaches us how to snipe each others. We engage in this process in the most vulgar ways.

The final leg of the trivium is rhetoric. With rhetoric, you learn how to communicate your ideas. Conversely, when you learn how to communicate your ideas, you become better at listening to others.

In the classical western world, the great speakers of the day would engage in organized events called disputations. These disputations, apparently, were big events where people were interested in both the quality of the discourse along with the content.

Today, of course, everyone vies for making the meanest and most provocative statement possible. The greater the provocateur, the more inbound links!!!!

The modern world holds that rhetoric is empty. Unfortunately, by de-emphasizing quality rhetoric in education, we have degenerated into a society where everything is propaganda.

In the classical ideal, rhetoric had the noble purpose of bringing out truth. In the modern relativistic world we are simply in a struggle for power and our words are seen simply as propaganda in pursuit of hegemony for our group.

Since we no longer value quality in rhetoric, we've developed new speaking techniques based on cunning and manipulation. We judge the effectiveness on our speaking entirely on the results achieved. If going negative with ad hominem attacks moves the polls, then politicians go for it. If projecting one's intentions on one's oppoents works, then our politicians dive into the propaganda technique. When all else fails, buy the vote with more public spending.

When you look at the rhetorical devices used by today's politicians you will find that they are routinely diverting attention away from the issues. We vote for Republicans who promise to reduce government. Since the promises are empty, they prove to be the opposite of the propagandist image. The Democrats have the population confused to the point where we think healthcare flows out of the fingers of politicians, when, in reality, healthcare is the process of individuals working with each other.

If Americans had learned the trivium, we would not put up with the low quality clowns that have turned our once proud legislative bodies into circuses.

The devaluing of rhetoric is extremely dangerous in a Democratic Republican such as the United States. In this system we are dependent on high quality rhetoric from our politicians so that we can make informed votes.

By ripping logic out of the curriculum of our schools, our left dominated education system has reduced both the ability of our leaders to engage in quality discourse and the ability of the public to appreciate quality discourse. We are left with sound bytes and shrill political maneuvering.

The Trivium v. The Three Rs

The trivium is the foundation of the liberal arts. It is actually much more abstract than the hardheaded three Rs that Conservatives like. The three Rs are Readin', wRitin', and 'Rithmetic.

The Trivium is about the development and communication of ideas. It is about free thinking. The trivium does not produce drones content to toil away in the mills. It actually does a better job of giving students the skills needed to engage in critical thinking than our modern classes in critical thinking. The modern classes in critical thinking are a joke. They teach people to criticize their opponents. It does not show how to formulate and communicate ideas.

I used to be a devout skeptic, until the day I accidentally applied my skepticism to skepticism itself.

An Enviable History

The trivium has an enviable history. It provided the foundations for science, most of mathematics, the American form of government, and the free market.

The modern dialectical method of thinking (new think) has produced a steady string of tyrannies, genocides and atrocities. New think has produced Communism, Fascism, Nazism, capitalism (I distinguish capitalism from the free market). There is strong indication that radical Islam is very much a product of the new think model. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are now products of the modern new think.

The only thing that new think can claim as a success is the modern public school. This education system, however, is not a producer. It is rich because our society became rich because or forefathers gave us the free market and science.

Public school teachers cling religiously to their new think. Personally, I think the schools would be better if they taught real knowledge in place of new thinking.

The Trivium is Incomplete

Of course, there are big problems with the Trivium. The trivium itself is notably incomplete and there will always be disputes about how the method should be implemented. All you are really doing with the trivium in primary school is creating a high esteem for ideas.

The trivium really starts with the assumption that there is a truth, and that if we engage in high quality discourse we get closer to that truth. This idea is ridiculed by Steven Colbert and The American Dialect Society as "truthiness." The trivium holds that there is a truth, and that we can approach it with quality discourse. Of course, when you look at your discourse, analytical models and rhetorical statements, you always find yourself falling short of what you want to achieve.

A common theme in classical education is that the great thinkers always felt that their education fell short. One of the primary reasons that the left was able yank logic out of the classroom was that the trivium gives people the feeling that their education fell short.

Now, I actually think that this feeling that you are falling short of the truth is a good thing. It becomes a driving force.

What modern education does is it gives people paradoxes and short cuts that create an illusion of completeness. When faced with a moral dilemma or ethical question, the practicianer of new think will throw his dilemma against the paradoxes he learned to admire in primary school and feel smuggly content then do whatever he feels.

I would rather have leaders who are plagued with the vague unease that you feel with logic that one with the absolute uncertainty that one feels when schooled in new think. I would rather have a media that esteemed quality rhetoric than one content on tricking people with sound bytes while ridiculing any serious attempt to engage in dialog as truthiness.

I would rather live in a world with a diversity of schools, than one with an education monopoly that holds the paradox that you embrace diversity by forcing everyone to be the same.


Scott Hinrichs said...

Thanks. I'll buy the book and read it.

y-intercept said...

The book is not a logic book. It was written early last century by a Catholic nun at a time when John Dewey and his cohorts were engaged in a full frontal assault on classical education. The author's goal was simply to show the thinking behind the trivium.

This book was aimed at college freshmen.

The book is currently popular among people interested in education reform as it shows a completely different style of thinking.

This classical method of thinking is completely different from new think that came from Hegel and Dewey.

I am pretty much of the opinion that we need to have classes in informal logic in school somewhere in K-12 (probably junior high). People in a free society need to know how to put together their ideas and to recognize logical fallacies in the rhetoric of others.

While a such a class would not be difficult, having studied the history of logic, I realized that writing such a curriculum is a real bear. There are hundreds of different approaches to logic.

A top heavy public bureaucracy would not be able to choose the best approach.

An open education market would be able to simultaneously pursue different approaches and it would be able to figure out the apropriate grade level for the logic class.