This series of articles aims to explain the three stages of classical education, also known as the trivium. Most of the information used in these articles originates from ‘The Well-Educated Mind’ by Susan Wise Bauer. The second article of this series can be found here and the final article can be found here.
Classical education can often get a bad reputation, as being overly old fashioned and dogmatic. Though I believe that in understanding the key stages and theories behind it, you can use it to potentially guide your own education in the modern day. Regardless of it being an education via an institution or simply via self-teaching yourself new concepts.
In breaking down the stages of learning in this manner it allows you to focus on one stage at a time, building your understanding of a topic in a more methodical and structured method. Saving the sense of being overwhelmed when you face a stack of imposing tomes for the first time.
The stages of classical education, or the trivium are Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. Each stage being equally important, and as such each will have a separate article covering them. But to start with, I shall aim to explain stage one, Grammar.
Stage One: Grammar
Grammar, while it still is used to describe how to write correctly and eloquently. In this sense it is used to describe understanding the language of a specific subject area. The word choice used by experts explaining the subject, which while they allow for a detailed explanation of how something works, also often act as a barrier to the subject area to others who may not know the language of the field.
In many ways, learning the Grammar of a subject, is very similar to learning a new language. This is very apparent in the Sciences and Law, to the point where many people are employed simply to translate information from the language used in research papers, to layman’s speak. Often for the first time, if you read a research paper of an area you do not understand well, it feels very much like reading something written in a foreign language making it difficult to understand what information is being conveyed though it.
And as such, it is important to focus often more on slowly learning this language first. As it is the very foundation in which you can build upon and begin truly building an in depth understanding of what it is you wish to learn.
You can often begin understanding and learning the language of a subject via reading papers and articles written about it. You do not need to fully understand the concepts written the first time you read either. Even if you have difficulty understanding the concepts, if you keep on reading you allow yourself to learn about the language used, and the manner of writing and speaking used to convey it. You can take time to look up what the words mean, slowly translating as you go and building the skill required to read future articles on the topics a lot, lot easier compared that daunting first time.
This stage can easily feel the most difficult, as starting something is always one of the most difficult parts of anything. When you do not quite understand the language and words of a subject it can feel very overwhelming and daunting. But as with everything if you are able to push on and take it one step at a time, the meaning behind those words will slowly begin to reveal themselves.
So do not worry when you first pick up a new difficult book, or sit though your first lectures. You do not need to understand everything at first. By simply staying with it and doing your best to understand the grammar and language of the subject, you allow yourself to build the strong foundation required for more in depth learning later.