What is Classical Christian Education? – Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric
I remember my high school football coach constantly preaching to us about the importance of fundamentals. We would work all offseason and through two-a-day practices on things like blocking, tackling, footwork, strength training, etc., spending countless hours without ever actually touching a football. Once we had these fundamentals established, coaches would start slowly introducing plays on offense and schemes on defense, starting very simple until we mastered the basics before moving on to more complex plays and concepts. Then, finally, game day would arrive, our team would put all that we learned from offseason fundamental work, countless practice reps of plays and schemes, in the grand production of a football game.
The structure of classical Christian education works a lot like a typical football season. The first three phases of that structure are called Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, which together the medievals called Trivium, Latin for “the three roads.” The Trivium is a structure that works with the natural developmental stages of a student. The Grammar phase works much like offseason fundamental training. In it students learn the basic rules of every course of study: things like math facts and multiplication tables, long division algorithms, English grammar rules, basic history timelines and facts, science taxonomies, and more. These are the basic fundamentals that students will continue to employ and perfect all through their life (raise your hand if you still know the year Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue!” or the pitches of the major music scale because “a Doe is a deer, a female deer….;” that is the Grammar stage!)
The next phase of the Trivium is called the Logic phase. It closely resembles the implementation of football practice plays and schemes and shows the application of many of the fundamentals students work to master in the Grammar School. In the Logic phase students learn the basic art of thinking well. They learn the importance of things like defining your terms, using precise language in communication, and how to construct their own valid and sound argument as well as how to analyze someone else’s argument. They practice the art of recognizing errors in reasoning, called “fallacies,” in both their own arguments as well as in those they encounter in culture or in conversation. Students learn the habit of thinking critically about the world they encounter and the ideas and assertions the world is constantly throwing at them. If you’ve ever had a friend make the argument that if you don’t fully affirm what they are doing, then you don’t love them, and thought to yourself, “Something isn’t right with that argument,” but you couldn’t quite put your finger on what it was, then Mr. Pentz’s Logic class is definitely for you (hint: your friend is committing one of the more common logical fallacies, called the Red Herring fallacy, by trying to shift the conversation from whatever their bad behavior might be to whether or not you are being loving towards them.)
The final phase of the Trivium is like game day: the Rhetoric stage. This is where all the work of the Grammar and Logic phases really comes together to produce a thoughtful and articulate person who can make an impact for the kingdom of God in whatever vocation God calls them to. In the Rhetoric School students learn the art of speaking well, what the ancients and medievals called rhetoric or oratory, or in a church setting, homiletics. One of our goals of a graduate is to train students who possess a masterful command of language. Students fully grasp the power of language, they gain the confidence and ability to recognize when someone is using that power against them, and they can harness that power and turn it back around in a beautiful, persuasive, and loving way for the glory of God.
The Trivium makes up the first three of the seven liberal arts, and they provide for students the necessary tools to learn. This is an important distinction between classical Christian education and most modern forms of education: instead of treating a student’s eternal soul like a database to be crammed with as much information as possible as fast as possible, classical Christian education seeks to form the soul of a student with the tools they need to learn – a vision for the world founded on the Word of God, a command of language and vocabulary, the ability to read and comprehend difficult texts, draw abstractions from those texts and make connections to others, to think critically and logically through complex problems, and more – so that they can go out into the world and excel at whatever vocation God calls them to. Whether you’re a doctor trying to diagnose a difficult set of symptoms, a rancher trying to negotiate the best sale on your beef, or a metal fabricator trying to understand the needs of your customer, the Trivium provides you with the basic building blocks needed for you to master whatever God places before you.