11 February 2010


Amice, Ubi est Trivium Meum?

It has been a week since I first learned about the Trivium and the concept of "tools of learning," but the problems of modern education are already much clearer.

This afternoon at XYZ Tutorial Centre, I heard a frustrated high school student say of his Algebra teacher, "He doesn't know how to teach!"--and the thought which immediately leaped to my mind (though not to my tongue!) was: "The real problem is that you don't know how to learn."

He happens to be a smart boy--and indeed, he and a classmate did manage, with nearly no help from their own tutor, to solve the two word problems they had been assigned for homework. He just isn't as adept at using the tools of learning as he ought to be.

If education is the lighting of a fire and not the filling of a bucket,
then what is wrong with this picture?

Distinguo! When today's teachers hear that they must light a fire, what mental image do you think pops into their heads? It might not be anything like the above picture . . . but I'm starting to think that it might as well be.

Chances are that the modern teacher's idea of lighting a fire owes more to the imagery of the Romantic poets than to the discipline of the Medieval Scholastics. Today, we say that a good teacher is someone who can inspire the young to dream, get them to question the familiar, encourage them to express themselves, and challenge them to find what is true for them. (Gak!) Never mind that the products of such schooling, for all their creativity, confidence and sparkle, would probably be considered barbarians by a panel made up of great teachers from Ancient Athens to Restoration London.

To the learned men of the Middle Ages, a fire is of value not just because it is "a thing of beauty and a joy forever," but because it is practical and sensible--a good means to many equally good ends. To paraphrase another oft-quoted proverb of education: give a man a torch and you light his path for one night; teach him to harness his own fire and you light his paths for life. You also give him warmth for the winter, hot dinners for his kitchen, and a good foundation for his livelihood, should he decide to set up a smithy.

Yes, the Trivium needs to come back.

Image Source: Fire Storm


christopher said...

I can literally hear the screams of anguish coming from that picture LOL!

I bought an old copy the trivium years ago. I have yet to crack its spine...

Enbrethiliel said...


One day you should take a picture of your bookshelves!