Memory, Argument, & Persuasion

We've recently been taking quick looks at a few principles that distinguish classical Christian education from other methodologies -- its hows and whysits respect for the past, and its balance between nature and technology.

Classical Christian education champions the use of memory, argument, and persuasion to undergird all subjects. Comprising the Trivium, you may know them as grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Yet memory, argument, and persuasion have fallen by the wayside in the 21st century. Other educational methodologies, not to mention real-world practice, replace them with Google, popular opinion, and various self-identities. Where once ideas and cultural practice were moored by a large body of personal knowledge, a moral paradigm for interpreting that knowledge, and a standards-based worldview for making that interpretation pleasing, now reality is defined only by the preferences of the individual, verified only by his feelings.

Memory (Grammar)
The book of Deuteronomy might carry a single theme: remember. Do not forget. Moses wrote the entire book, just before his death, as a means of reminding the Israelites of the knowledge of God, and of his gifts: "Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes" (Deut. 8:11). Classical Christian education encourages students in a similar way: learn the ways of God, of the way he made the world, and of the things he has given you. Remember, and do not forget. In a real way, this is why classical education emphasizes memorization, not simply as a utilitarian means of calling up facts when we don't have a smartphone, but as a way of writing the knowledge of God and his world on students' hearts. This kind of memorization creates thankfulness.

Argument (Logic)
"'Come, let us reason together,' says the Lord" (Is. 1:18), the Word from the beginning, the "Logic" made flesh (John 1:1) The nature of God is rational, his creation is orderly, and therefore classical Christian education seeks to mold students' minds to the mind of God. What are the rules of the world that we have been given? What are the rules of thought? What is God like? The answers becomes the standard for all truth, and for all discourse. Without it, the only coherent question becomes, "Who's to say?" Reality is ultimately rendered meaningless.

Persuasion (Rhetoric)
At the end of creation, "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Within the first week of the created order, God made things, communicated them into existence, and persuaded himself that they were "very good." He did not simply form beings with mere functional capacity; he gave them beauty. In turn as created beings, we have a longing for everything lovely, and for the ultimate Loveliness of Christ. Therefore, classical Christian education trains students to take joy in their creations, to imbue their projects, essays, labs, and speeches with loveliness, reflecting the beauty of their creator.

Like Spitting into the Wind

As our school grows and time passes, more of our students are moving into the Logic Phase of the Trivium.  In light of current relativistic cultural trends which see man's personal desires as autonomous, and truth as a shape-shifting thespian, we have a key job as educators and parents to give our kids the tools they need to apply universal moral standards to today's ideas.  We have to show them how to judge between right and wrong.  If a new, controversial law is passed, will they be able to point effectively to a fixed standard of truth that is applicable?  Or will they wave their hands despairingly, get shrill, and have nothing much to say?

But today, "right" and "wrong" are strange words.  What can they really mean?  And who's to say?  Surely you aren't telling me that I must conform to your personal beliefs?  You're free to believe what you like -- you have a right to your outmoded religious convictions -- but keep them out of the public square.  Keep them away from my personal choices.

So this is a tricky business.  The Logic Phase should not teach the lofty art of ramming dogma down disagreeing throats.  As an obvious but crucial caveat, unless we teach our children to generously sprinkle their arguments with love, mix them with a few handfuls of minced pride, and bake them with bellies full of laughter, all the perfect syllogisms and proofs they can muster will fly back into their faces, like spitting into the wind.  As someone once said, "There is a deeper right than being right."

So we are beginning to give our children tools of argument and debate.  But as any good carpenter knows, sharp tools in unskilled hands just lead to a bloody mess.

Grace and Peace, Nate Ahern

Kaylyn Wilson on Classical Education

Classical education places primary importance on the fundamentals of learning.  There is a certain rigor and discipline about it, but with a primary focus on developing character and virtue. Beginning in the Medieval period of history, classical education has used the three stages of “the Trivium”, a method of learning that is based on the developmental stages of the human mind. In other words, the Trivium takes the natural ways that a child’s mind develops and works with the grain.


1. Grammar (ages 5-10)

During their younger years, children posses a great natural ability to memorize large of amounts of material even though they may not understand its significance. This is the time to fill children full of facts, such as multiplication tables, geography, dates, events, plant and animal classification; anything that lends itself to easy repetition and assimilation by the mind. This phase of the Trivium focuses on exposing children to a wide range of literature and facts in all areas of study, encouraging memorization.  Overall, it allows young children to simply soak up knowledge as the young sponges they are at this age. Much of the work is language arts (grammar, spelling, phonics, copy work, reading) and mathematics facts.

2. Logic or Dialectic (ages 10-­14)

Students begin to ask “why” and learn about cause and effect. They learn how different subjects and events relate to each other, and how to approach subjects more analytically.  This stage also begins their formal study of logic.  Students begin to use reason to ask questions based on the information that has been gathered in the Grammar stage. It is during this stage that students no longer see the facts learned as merely separate pieces of information but start to put those facts together into logical relationships by asking questions.

3. Rhetoric (ages 14-18)

The final stage of the Trivium combines the knowledge of the Grammar stage with the logic and abstract thinking of the Logic stage. Here, students begin to write and speak effectively, creatively, and persuasively. They now develop the skills of organizing information into a well‐reasoned format that is pleasing to read or hear. It is also the time of more specialized study and training, as the student has been given the tools of learning that are necessary for the study of any subject. By this stage, the student should have the thinking skills and mental discipline that is necessary to tackle the difficulties associated with any area of future study.