Contextualizing the Trivium

Recently, one of our upper school teachers came up with a neat little turn of phrase that he is applying in his 5th & 6th grade history class:  All of your answers will be questioned.  And while the students have somewhat chafed at the idea that all of their answers will be questioned, the fact that they will be required not only to supply the answer to a question but also to substantiate that answer is one of the main aims of a classical Christian education.  An attempt at applying the turn of phrase across the trivium might look something like this:

Grammar: All of your questions will be answered.

Logic: All of your answers will be questioned.

Rhetoric: All of your questions will be questioned.

These phrases might seem a bit silly, but I think that they serve as simple summaries for understanding and explaining the classical philosophy of education.  In the grammar stage, for instance, we are helping the students get their feet underneath them as they use their God-given gift to memorize and recite information at will: All of your questions will be answered.  As an example, if you were to ask one of our kindergarten students how many days there are in a week, they would immediately sing to you about the fact that there are seven days in the week.

In the logic stage, we are challenging the students to use their readiness to argue and debate by defending the answers that they supply to the questions that are being asked: All of your answers will be questioned.  In our 5th and 6th grade literature class, the students are often asked analysis questions about the novel that they are reading which require them not only to state what a certain character did but also to provide the reason why that character acted in that way.

In the rhetoric stage, the students are being further sculpted by our requiring them not only to defend their answers, but also to be able to find answers to their questioners – those who oppose their position: All of your questions will be questioned.  In our highschool Omnibus class, – history, literature, and theology meshed together – they have been working through student led discussions of the texts that they are reading.  During these times, the students are required to prepare questions through which they will guide the whole class.  Part of being a good leader of these discussion times also involves the student being ready to defend why he or she has posed a question in a certain way.  Having this ability to not only defend your answers but also to defend the questions that you are asking, is a quintessential component of eloquent communication.      

Now you might be saying to yourself, “This is all well and good, but what prevents all of this questioning from becoming a source of endless frustration for the students and a catalyst for unhealthy competition?”  The only thing that keeps this paradigm from becoming endlessly grueling is the fact that they are being questioned in love, through grace, and with their good growth in Christ-likeness as the motivation.  Indeed, a classical education that is not Christian is an education that is rigorous without having the true end for which all education has been created in view.  As everything that we see is from our King, sustained by our King, and has been made for our King, to engage in the vigorous sculpting of young people simply for the sake of their being sculpted is a vain – and painful – endeavor.  But since we are doing everything that we are by His grace, for His glory, and for our joy in Christ, we have a hope that all of our efforts are not in vain.  Instead, the enterprise in which we are engaged is fruitful for His kingdom for the question answer-ers, the answer question-ers, and for those who are growing into question-ers of questions.

Excelsior ad Dei gloriam!