Article XV: The Seven Liberal Arts

The Seven Liberal Arts consist of the Trivium and the Quadrivium.  The Trivium includes grammar, logic or dialectic, and rhetoric while the Quadrivium includes arithmetic and geometry or mathematics, astronomy or the sciences and music or the arts.  Add theology as the queen of the sciences, philosophy her handmaiden and a healthy dose of physicality and the student will receive a complete preparation for Christian success.

Grammar is literally the study of the rules governing the use of language, part of the general study of language called linguistics.  It also applies to the early stage of other disciplines such as history and mathematics.  The key to the first stage of the Trivium, or grammar is content, content, content! Students learn who, what, where and when in each area of learning. They can do so by rhyme, rhythm and recitation.

Surveyor, General, Number 1,

Father of our country, George Washington

Well-spoken John Adams, Number 2

Created the Navy and Marine Corps, too

Inventor Thomas Jefferson, Number 3

Bought the Louisiana Purchase- – – It was almost free!

At this early stage, students easily and enjoyably learn by memorizing and reciting as deep reasoning is difficult and unnecessary.  Timeline dates are learned so that Children learn the timeline of God’s providential superintendence of history and hang upon those dates copious volumes of knowledge, packing their intellectual pantries in preparation for analysis and application in the logic stage.  Teachers teach the dates of the kings of England accompanied by costumes, architecture and everyday things so the mere mention of a King Henry the fifth emits strong images.  Reading at the grammar level focuses on the child mastering phonics and grammar.  Latin begins at grade 3 teaching precision and attention to detail.  Students learn physical geography including continents, oceans and seas, mountain ranges and rivers, nations and cities.  Mathematics includes mastery of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in preparation for higher math.  Geometric shapes and groupings lead students easily into more complicated mathematical processes.  Study of the Bible at the grammar stage becomes acquainted with the story of God and man in creation, fall and redemption.  Old and New Testament stories are soundly learned and joyfully recounted.  Teaching at the grammar level should include all parts that make up the whole such as the eight parts that make up the sentence or the thirty-two key historical dates encompassing each epoch of history.  Learning the parts of phonics and grammar, history, arithmetic and Latin gives the student all of the pieces to assemble them into a meaningful structure.  Because the grammar level lays the foundation, it will enable the next level of learning to take shape!

The logic or dialectic as a stage begins as the student approaches about the 5th grade.  The growing mind begins to shift up from joyful memorization to questioning and argument or reasoning in the language of Bloom’s Taxonomy the student moves from recall and understanding to application and analysis.  The child who enjoyed rattling off memorized grammar rules now begins noticing all the awkward exceptions in history, ethics and science.  The mind begins to generalize, to question, to connect and to analyze, developing the capacity for abstract thought and construction of sound arguments.   While the first grader learned that Rome fell to the Barbarians; the sixth grader learns that rising Roman taxes, government corruption, increasing slave population, an army made up of mercenaries and polytheism weakened the Roman Empire.  Students identify logical fallacies and delight to point them out in every conversation.  Later, a course on formal logic teaches cause and effect; valid and invalid arguments, fallacies and syllogisms.  Each of these mined for use in historical debate, literature, and political campaign, criticism of current events and in dinnertime conversation!  Logic level students write papers that focus on questions of motivation, of historical development, of debated fact.  What were the real causes of the French Revolution?  Why did Jefferson and Washington keep slaves?  Logic level students enter the world of symbolic mathematics.  Algebra requires the student to work with the unknown; to analyze each problem, discover its central point and apply knowledge already acquired to its solution.  Algebra is not just technique; it orders the student’s mind for all kinds of problem solving.  We all need to work from unknown to known when solving problems each day.  History at the logic stage finds the student still responsible for dates and places but digging deeper into the motivation of leaders, the relationships between different cultures that existed at the same time, into forms of government and causes of war both just and unjust.  History provides the spine for a classical education.  Literature, art, music and even science organize around the outline provided by history.  Science at the logic level finds students making connections among the branches of science and between science and history and the scientific method and the rules of logic.  Remember that the goal of classical education is to produce an adult who can take in new knowledge, evaluate its worth and then discard it or enjoy putting it to good use.  Students who never learn to organize the information will never realize the link between the Law of Moses, the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.  Without logic, information will remain jumbled and unusable.  Thus, the Logic level equips students with the tools to make connections and to judge.  The subjects studied become the substrate for the real object, or learning to reason. 

Rhetoric, the advanced stage of the Trivium is the art of expression.  Students in grades 9-12 learn how to express their arguments with order, clarity, force and style to effectively and elegantly persuade.  Rhetoric is the available means of persuasion.  Rhetoric depends heavily on the first two stages of the Trivium to prepare contenders.  Grammar laid a foundation of knowledge; logic taught the student how to think through the validity of arguments and to organize.  In rhetoric, the student learns principles of expression.  At first, a formal course in rhetoric is taught focusing on the contributions of Aristotle, Quintilian and Cicero.  Later the principles learned will be applied to history, science, literature and theology.  Rhetoric is organized into five areas or canons.  Students are taught 1) the art of formulating an argument and gathering all the supporting evidence or inventio, 2) arranging or organizing all that information into a persuasive order or dispositio, 3) determining the style needed for the occasion or elocutio, 4) memorizing important points or entire speeches or memoria and 5) delivering the speech effectively or pronuntiatio.  Aristotle tells us that Rhetoric leads to fair-mindedness.  The student trained in rhetoric must be able to argue persuasively on both sides of an issue; not in order to convince an audience of that which is wrong, but “in order that we may see clearly what the facts are.”  (Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.1).  Students will learn and seek to apply that Rhetoric “is the art of a good man [or woman] speaking well.”

The Quadrivium includes arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.  Arithmetic and geometry or more broadly mathematics traditionally began after the Trivium.  After students learned literacy and orality, they move into numeracy.  In the modern conception, arithmetic begins as early as the grammar stage.  A classical education includes competency in higher math skills such as algebra, geometry and trigonometry and for many an introduction to calculus.  Astronomy or more broadly the sciences include biology (formerly natural philosophy), geology, chemistry and physics.  Music or more broadly the arts include musical theory and composition as well as vocal and instrumental performance.  The visual arts begin with exercises in the elements and principles of art as well as drawing, painting and three-dimensional design.  Along with the oratorical arts, all these combine in theatre.  At the rhetoric level, the focus of the arts is the means by which ideas are expressed. 

As did the Medievalist, we add the Queen of the Sciences, theology and its handmaiden philosophy.  The student studies the drama of scripture including Old and New Testament people and events.  Later he/she learns systematic and biblical theology.  Finally, students study apologetics—the articulate and well-reasoned defense of Christian belief so they can contend for the Faith in any arena of life and thought.  Since the classical school is a gymnasium for the mind and for the body, it therefore includes physical education, and athletic competition.  This is one of the best places to develop student fortitude, teamwork, leadership and stamina.  Therefore, a classical liberal arts education is a well-rounded preparation for life. 

And finally, as said Francis Bacon in Of Studies, “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.”  Therefore, a classical education is a complete education developing in the student a virtuous, well-trained habit of mind and body for the glory of God.  As classical educators, we endeavor to prepare citizens– to aim for a life that knows and reveres, speculates and acts upon the good, that loves and reproduces the beautiful and that pursues excellence and moderation in all things. We aim to prepare learners and citizens for life.  This is classical education, a Christian education in the liberal arts.

Sources Used:

  • Aristotle, Available Means of Persuasion
  • Bauer, Susan Wise, The Well-Educated Mind, The Well-Trained Mind
  • Berquist, Laura, Designing the Classical Curriculum
  • Bruni, Leonardo, Education of a Renaissance Woman
  • Joseph, Sister Miriam, The Trivium
  • Sayers, Dorothy, The Lost Tools of Learning
  • Schlect, Chris, The Seminal Words of Medieval Education
  • Stanley, Mindy, Rhyme

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