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Why you should read: Trivium 21st C by Martin Robinson

Written By: Tom Sherrington
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Trivium 21c is a manifesto for the education every child should have.

Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past.

What is it about?

In search of the ideal education for his daughter, the author Martin Robinson turns to three of the classical arts – grammar, dialectic and rhetoric (trivium).

He then explores how a modern version of this could serve as a blueprint for 21st century education. He takes you on a journey through a history of the philosophy of education and a series of interviews with contemporary commentators, before setting out the implications for a Trivium 21c in schools today.

What are the three arts?

  • Grammar. This is the core knowledge we want children to acquire; the traditions and ways of thinking within and between subject disciplines; and cultural capital that sustains dynamic communities
  • Dialectic includes mathematical and scientific reasoning, argument and debate, and logos (the journey and experience of learning that shapes our character)
  • Rhetoric is about expressing ideas, communicating, speaking, arguing and performing – it’s the expression of our ideas that enables us to be part of ‘the great conversation’.

The book explores how progressive and traditional ideas have been in tension for centuries, with dialectians, grammarians and rhetoriticians often seeing the world differently. Trivium allows the three arts to coexist, harnessing the inherent tensions between them to generate a rich, deep curriculum where creativity flourishes.

What are the main messages for teachers?

The Trivium 21c can be simplified to mean that a great curriculum should consist of sharing a body of core knowledge (grammar), opportunities to explore and experience the world (dialectic) and opportunities to learn how to communicate ideas (rhetoric). This applies to all traditional subjects.

This has implications for what teachers should plan, how they assess and how they create a curriculum where the three arts are integrated into a cohesive whole. The goal is not just to confine students to acquiring a fixed set of knowledge, it is to empower them with the tools needed to contribute to the debates.

Top Tip

Design your curriculum and each series of lessons with the trivium in mind. What are the elements of knowledge your pupils should all know? How will they explore the ideas and what experiences should they all have? How will they then express their ideas?

Want to know more?

Robinson, M: (2013) Trivium 21c Preparing Young People for the Future with Lessons from the Past. Independent Thinking Press.

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