I’ve just finished reading this wonderful book and, as I said on twitter, it’s the best education book I’ve read by far. There are lots of teacher-tips books and plenty of academic system-reform or leadership books – but Trivium 21st C occupies different ground altogether. Martin Robinson has produced a manifesto for reforming and revitalising our educational practice, our discourse and our system based on a set of core principles; ideas about who we are as people: individuals, communities and societies.
The book uses an exploration of the Trivium as it once was – a set of principles for learning that evolved from Plato to the middle ages – as a template for considering a range of contemporary educational problems and debates. Martin uses the story of his daughter as she embarks on her school-based education as a focus point. Through his hopes and dreams for her education, he is able to express the hopes and dreams we all have for our children – and the contrast with what is currently on offer in the mainstream of modern schooling.
Until I read this book, I’d never heard of the trivium. It’s rare to read a book about education that provides this much education itself! But it makes so much sense in our contemporary debate about what education is or could be:
Grammar: The need for a strong knowledge base; the cultural capital that we accrue from vertical transmission; the things that we all must know to function in the modern world.
Dialectic: (with logic and logos built-in) The need to question, debate and discuss ideas; to form our own opinions and to have authentic experiences; to value the processes by which we learn for the way they can help build our character.
Rhetoric: The need to be able to communicate our ideas and knowledge in a variety of forms; to create and perform with confidence and flair.
Martin sums this up beautifully in this passage: The Good Life:
The book is packed with philosophy and philosophers, tracing the development of ideas about knowledge and understanding through history. Building on this, Martin introduces the lovely concept of students as ‘philosopher kids’, taking on the world through the components of the trivium:
The book explores in detail how the components of the trivium have been seen to clash over the course of history and continue to do so in their modern manifestations: traditional vs progressive; knowledge vs skills and so on. However, Martin argues that, reconstituted as Trivium 21st C, there is a way to resolve these tensions to create a model for a modern education that builds on the best of what traditional and progressive approaches offer. This is explored in part through a series of fascinating interviews with a range of politicians, headteachers and policy-makers.
Towards the end of the book, Martin pulls the ideas together to make suggestions for how Trivium 21st C could influence our curriculum and our teaching:
He explores the implications for pedagogy and assessment. This is fascinating. Martin is suggesting that the sequencing of the components – Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric- is important and that, therefore, the relevant modes of teaching and assessment need to follow. There is a path to follow over time that teachers should be more conscious of and even use explicitly in their planning and discourse with their classes:
I’m starting to think about the implications of the book for my practice as a teacher and a leader of teachers. Do we place enough emphasis on the firm acquisition of knowledge before we knock it about with dialectic processes? Could we do more direct vertical knowledge transmission with associated assessment practices? Do we engage all our students systematically in the range of dialectic experiences and activities? Are we explicit enough about the role of questioning and of challenge; do we create enough authentic experiences and give enough value to logos… the journey itself. Do we fully exploit our students’ capacity for expression through rhetoric; some come to this more naturally but do we develop the rhetorical arsenal for all of students to the extent that we could?
Trivium 21st C also has questions for our national policy – in terms of the nature of the formal curriculum, accountability processes and public examinations. Do we have a system that will allow a curriculum like the one Martin Robinson describes to come into being beyond a few privileged institutions – or institutions for the privileged?
I’m conscious that the snippets in this post and my ramblings can’t do justice to the book..you just need to buy it and read it. And then act on it. It’s already got me thinking at a deeper level – and that is exciting.
PS: Reading the book on the train to and from work on my iPad Kindle ( the whole book guiltily purchased for £1.89) allowed me to take screen shots to tweet and share with Martin (@surrealanarchy) on Twitter. It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to discuss a book with its author during the process of reading it. Thanks to Martin for his enthusiasm for my enthusiasm! The book deserves to be very widely read and discussed. This could be the answer we’re looking for. It’s certainly one of the answers – or part of the answer.
For more insight, please read Mary Myatt’s superb blog about Trivium 21st C: http://marymyatt.com/blog/2013-08-19/not-trivial-martin-robinsons-trivium-21c