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The word "Trivium" is a Latin word meaning "three roads" or "three ways". In the late 20th century, the word gained currency in the United States as a description of three stages of learning in the life of a child. A significant source of this currency was the famous essay written by Dorothy Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning". In her essay, Ms. Sayers reminded us that children learn today in the same ways they've always learned; and that it isn't a bad idea to look to our educational forefathers for suggestions about how best to facilitate that learning. She suggested that a "classical" education had and has three parts which correspond to three stages of learning. The first stage she called the Grammar stage – which refers to the early learning stage where the memorization of facts comes easily and the child is not yet ready for abstract thinking. During this stage, the "…master faculties are Observation and Memory."1

The second stage or "Dialectic" stage of learning is where a young person begins to use acquired information to think and express opinion. The Dialectic stage is marked by argument and "…the master faculty is Discursive Reason".2 This is the stage where the student suddenly decides he knows how things work and is prepared to announce it boldly. This is the time when Latin and logic lay a firm foundation in critical thinking skills and worldview which will be built upon later on.

Finally, the student reaches the "Rhetoric stage", when the student discovers that diverse fields of knowledge are related and that much combination of information is available to penetrating thought. During this stage, a sharpened mind will require some freedom to concentrate on the subject or subjects which resonate the loudest. "The doors of the storehouse of knowledge should now be thrown open for them to browse about as they will. The things once learned by rote will be seen in new contexts; the things once coldly analyzed can now be brought together to form a new synthesis; here and there a sudden insight will bring about that most exciting of all discoveries: the realization that truism is true."3 At the onset of the Rhetoric stage, prior years of developing and testing a Christian worldview become indispensible. The student possessed of a well-ordered mind moves to the practical application of philosophical ideas and values. It is a stage of learning marked by the development of sound judgment, effective expression and possibly even virtue.

With a focus on the secondary years, Equip Education starts with 3 years of Dialectic followed by 3 years of Rhetoric training. For further reading on this subject, the complete Dorothy Sayers essay "The Lost Tools of Learning" is reprinted in its entirety on this website.


1 The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers, 1947.
2 The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers, 1947.
3 The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers, 1947.

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