Friday, July 20, 2007


Last week I went on the Academic Retreat for Teachers of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. One of the things we focused on was the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) and the central role they play in a genuinely Catholic education. This is because the word is the vehicle for our coming to know the truth and the Trivium are the "word" or symbolic arts. All other disciplines become much easier once you've achieved competency in the word arts and the use and limitation of symbols.

There are two models of the Trivium that we investigated. In the "narrow" version, which is well represented by the book The Trivium by Sr. Miriam Joseph. This focus exclusively on the use of words to convey truth in literature, non-fiction prose, philosophy and theology.

The broader concept of the Trivium, well represented by Dorothy Sayers' famous essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning," holds that all disciplines have their own grammar, logic and rheroric, including, for instance, the sciences and mathematics. The job of the Trivium is to help gain competency in any field by learning its grammar, logic and rhetoric. Rollin Lasseter, a retired (and ailing) literature professor at the University of Dallas, who presented at the retreat, is an advocate of this approach, as is the homeschool organization, Mother of Divine Grace.

One of the main and almost universal problems in our day in Catholic education is that people enter the university without a solid grounding in the Trivium. They therefore do not know how to think or to know. This is a problem even at the most solid Catholic colleges and universities. They begin addressing the sapiential disciplines (theology, philosophy, history, psychology, etc.) and career-oriented specializations before the students have the intellectual tools necesary to address the issues in these disciplines.

That is why I was heartened to see that the new Wyoming Catholic College explicitly addresses the Trivium all four years using books by Mortimer Adler, Peter Kreeft, Mark Van Doren, Strunk and White, and somebody named Corbett. Here is the four-year reading list.

There also seems to be a strong emphasis at WCC on forming the Catholic imagination as well as intellect. This is extremely important.