For a while now I have been amused at the contrast between the two words “trivium” and “trivial.” Now I am an ardent advocate of the renewal of “Trivium-Based Education” and consider such a renewal greatly needed and far from trivial. So in what sense could the trivium be trivial? How could one of these words be so serious and the other so…well, trivial?
Our word “trivium” is taken directly from the Latin word trivium which means the place “where three roads meet.” The word trivium is made from two other Latin words: tres (three) and via (road, way). The word trivium was employed by some medieval educators to describe the education rooted in the study of the three verbal arts of grammar, logic in rhetoric. The trivium described the “three fold way” consisting of the arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric. So the trivium is the path to mastering language and cultivating one’s humanity. That’s pretty serious. Our word “trivial” (and “trivia”) derives from a related Latin word–the adjective trivialis, which means “of the crossroads.” In Roman towns, crossroads where very busy streets where a lot of people gathered, making what was there, or what happened there, common. So gradually, what was “trivial” became that which was common, familiar and well-known.
In contemporary education, we surely cannot say that the trivium is common, familiar and well-known. Certainly trivum-based education is not on every street corner, not in this sense at the crossroads. But could the trivium be at the crossroads in another sense? For a crossroads also represents a decision that must be made. One must make one turn or another, take one path or another. As classical schools continue to grow and multiply, other schools will be presented with a choice: Should we adopt a classical curriculum and pedagogy? Many Christian schools are observing the growth of classical schools and asking themselves, if the classical approach would be a road worth taking. Several have said yes, a trend I am certainly watching carefully.
Classical schools themselves often find themselves at their own crossroads: Do we start a high school? Do we dilute the classical curriculum in order to attract more students? Do we help start another classical school in a city down the road?
Maybe you are at a crossroads. Will you educate your own children classically? Will you become an educator at a classical school or co-op? Will you give your talent and time to a classical school board? Start a new classical school? Let me know, I have been down that road before.