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The Transformation of Classical Education

An Interview With Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn

July 2001

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn of Trivium Pursuit, authors of Teaching the Trivium (Amazon link or Christianbook link), were kind enough to take time to speak with us about their view of the Trivium in homeschooling and their personal experiences in homeschooling their children all the way through adulthood. By Martha Robinson.

Thank you for taking time to speak to us! Please tell us about yourselves.

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: From the day we were married, in 1973, we were committed to homeschooling whatever children the Lord would give us, although, at that time, the term hadn't been invented yet. Our oldest was born in 1975, and we started homeschooling using a formal curriculum in 1980. In 1982, he turned seven, which was the compulsory school age in Iowa. At that time, it was illegal to homeschool in Iowa, so we moved to Illinois to avoid prosecution for truancy charges, and we've lived here ever since. We returned regularly to Iowa to attend the trials of other parents being prosecuted and jailed for homeschooling, and to testify at legislative hearings, until Iowa finally altered the law to allow homeschooling.

1989, we were asked by an Iowa Homeschool convention to give a seminar on teaching Latin, Greek, and Logic. We've now given seminars in forty-four states. We would never have chosen this role for ourselves. Others have called us to it. Now we've finally arranged much of what we know and believe into a book - Teaching the Trivium.

Our children are Nathaniel (26), Johannah (24), Hans (22), Ava (20), and Helena (18). They all work with us in our ministry. Nathaniel is the web master for our website ( and for his and Hans' website ( He also designs and formats all of our materials. Besides his studies in logic, classical guitar, and writing, he has bees and cows to attend to. Johannah is the illustrator for our materials, and besides her French studies and writing and illustrating (she's writing a children's book now), she gives art lessons, attends to five cows (she owns the cows) and makes cheese and other milk products. Hans handles the Logic Loop and the logic bulletin board, studies classical guitar, and is working with Nathan on putting together a logic curricula. Ava is the one you will most likely talk to if you call our home. She and Helena make sure all orders are sent out promptly. She gives sewing and music lessons, and does sewing for others. Helena is finishing her highschool studies and is working with Harvey on a Latin pronunciation guide. All of our children work with us on our writing projects. The girls keep the household running and the boys keep the property in good repair. We live way out on a country road in a large farm house on two acres, where we have a large garden and a fruit orchard.

Would you please explain the names you have given the stages of the Trivium?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: Technically speaking, the Trivium is the first three of the seven liberal arts - grammar, logic, and rhetoric. But that's technically speaking, and most people respond to such language with a dull yawn or a confused-looking stare. In the past, our culture allowed that vocabulary to have more meaning. But it was always a syllabus of subjects. We need a vocabulary which is more descriptive of intellectual faculties or of their progressive development. Scripture provides one.

The workmen selected to build the tabernacle and the temple were to be filled with or well developed in the separate faculties of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge ( Exodus 31:3; 35:31; 36:1; see the Hebrew text in First Kings 7;14; Second Chronicles 2:12-14). Leaders in Israel were also to be able men, well developed in these same three faculties (Exodus 18:21,25; Deuteronomy 1:13,15). Even pagan nations recognized these qualities in those they chose for administrators (Daniel 1:4,17; 2:20-23; 5:11-16), and nations fell under God's judgement when their leaders lacked necessary qualities in these three faculties (Isaiah 29:12,13). The Messiah is filled with the spirit of these three faculties (Isaiah 11:1,2).

God created all things by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge (Proverbs 3:19,20). A house is built, established, and filled by these three faculties (Proverbs 25:3,4). The Lord gives wisdom and knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6). Wisdom dwells with understanding and finds out knowledge (Proverbs 8:12). Understanding gets knowledge and wisdom seeks knowledge (Proverbs 18:15).

The Lord Jesus developed according to the order of the Trivium (Luke 2:46,47,52). Paul describes Timothy's development in this order (Second Timothy 3:15-17). Under the New Covenant, God abounds toward His people, and the apostle Paul prays that they would be spiritually filled with these three faculties (Ephesians 1:8,9,17,18; Colossians 1:9,10; 2:2,3).

Our point in rehearsing all of these examples (which amounts to only a sampling) is not to wear you out, but to impress you with how this Trivium - knowledge, understanding, and wisdom - is woven into the very fabric of Scripture. Scripture is like a mirror in which we see our own natures reflected.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are only the three formal subjects which traditionally have been used to develop these three faculties. We prefer to use the terms knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, because they are rooted in the Word of God and they conform to our nature and therefore they are eminently suited to describe our separate faculties and their successive stages or levels of development.

Knowledge is the gathering of information, the recognition of things. Knowledge is best when it is thorough, accurate, and complete - fully acquainted with all of the facts.

Understanding goes beyond mere gathering of information. It distinguishes between things, discerns the order of things, sorts out and arranges things, has insight into the things so as to ponders their nature.

Wisdom goes beyond the mere distinguishing of things. Wisdom is experienced, skillful, shrewd, clever toward the practical use of things. Wisdom uses Knowledge and Understanding to discern the true, the best, or the most valuable use of things. Wisdom is a comprehensive insight which gives sound counsel or valuable advice.

Grammar is a subject which develops and sharpens skill in Knowledge. Logic is a subject which develops and sharpens skill in Understanding. Rhetoric is a subject which develops and sharpens skill in Wisdom. So the Formal Classical Trivium of subjects serves the interests of what we call the Scriptural Trivium of intellectual faculties.

What is the goal of the Trivium?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: The goal of the Trivium is to give the student the necessary tools or skills which make him free from his teacher so that he can learn and develop learning by himself. That's why the Trivium tools are called the Liberal or liberating Arts.

What vocation or further study does this prepare students for?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: Any and all. The Trivium develops the basic tools needed for efficient and effective learning at all levels in every direction. Most jobs and occupations change within three to five years. Your ability to do any one thing at any one time is not nearly as important as your ability to learn something new. Furthermore, your ability to advance is greatly hindered if you cannot acquire the "tools" needed.

There's nothing wrong with working toward a goal or a specific outcome. But the modern "Outcome-Based Education" should really be called "outcome-only-driven" education, because it leaves out teaching the basic skills of the Trivium. It puts you on a train to your destination, but if you want to go somewhere else, you'll have to get on another one of its trains. The Trivium gives you a car and shows you how to get anywhere you want, or how to explore new territory on your own.

What do you foresee young people doing after completion of the Trivium at home?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: By "completion of the Trivium" we take you to mean completing formal studies around the three subjects of the Trivium by the end of the customary highschool years. But learning by the Trivium will never end. Once they have the tools, they will have plenty of uses for them. Students may pursue further studies at home or in more formal settings, or they may pursue their own enterprise, or an occupation or a trade, or they may marry and begin homeschooling another generation in the Trivium. No matter what they pursue, they will be better prepared to pursue it if they have the necessary tools of learning.

Your idea about not beginning formal studies until age ten is often quoted and frequently misunderstood. What should a child be learning before age ten?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: A child is learning in all categories before age ten. But he is learning it in a childish way, not in an adult way. "When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, I used to compose thoughts as a child, I used to reason as a child. But by the time I had finally become a man, I had rendered useless the things which pertain to the child." - First Corinthians 13:11 v.l.t.

There is a childish level of speaking, of composing thoughts, and of reasoning. For most children, somewhere between ages eight and ten - ten being about the upper cut off date - there is a physical transformation of the brain which allows for the more abstract adult-style learning. At this time, a relatively rapid change occurs in the way children mentally develop. This is literally when we can begin to put away the childish things, and we can begin to learn in a more adult way - though it will take several years to assemble the parts and fully develop the adult way of learning.

We may draw an analogy from computers. Before age ten, while the hardware is still being assembled, we are largely booting up and filling data files. At age ten (approximately), we install a much higher grade of processor, and we begin loading more heavy-duty operating software. We continue to build data files and update software until about age thirteen, when our processing power is capable of being fully utilized. By about age sixteen, our output devices are capable of being fully utilized. Though by age eighteen everything - input (knowledge), processing (understanding), and output (wisdom) - should be operating at full capacity, there is still some important maturing work on both the hardware and software until about age twenty.

Every child develops differently, and there is a great degree of variation from child to child. You simply cannot put little children into the straitjacket of a prescribed program. They must be custom-built, not factory-assembled. Trying to squeeze little children into a factory mold causes learning dysfunctions. (Many learning dysfunctions are actually the result of teaching dysfunctions.) We believe this custom-building is one of the reasons homeschooling has been so phenomenally successful.

Though in the last century, and especially in the last few decades, it has become the norm to push adult style learning into earlier years, many educators believe this is not the best trend. Some children survive without irreparable harm under the new methods, and a few even prosper - though not because of the methods. Everyone survived and more prospered under the older methods, but now they fall off the conveyor belt and are either lost in the shuffle or spend their lives in remedial education.

We address all of these things in much greater depth throughout our book.

There's too much to say here in too little space. Before age ten (approximately), the child is mostly dependent upon his concrete sensory experiences for learning. Force feeding academic studies is not an efficient use of your time, is not going to accomplish all of the good you intend, and may actually work some harm. You should focus on building a good foundation for later academics. Develop moral capacity through regular family worship, honoring parents through first time obedience, doing regular chores, visiting nursing homes. Develop capacity for language through phonics instruction, reading, writing, oral narration, copywork and memorization of Scripture, of catechisms, of passages of literature, of ancient alphabets and of passages in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Vocabulary is the primary index of intelligence, and regular reading aloud to your children from good literature for at least two hours per day will widen their vocabulary and their conception of the world. You want to develop in them an appetite for learning. At our web site, we have an article on "Ten Things to Do Before Age Ten", which is an earlier and much shorter version of Chapter Eleven in our book.

What subjects do you begin teaching at age ten and why?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: In our book, Teaching the Trivium, we have a chapter on Ten Things to Do With Children Ages Ten Through Twelve.

  1. Family Worship - including Family Bible study morning and evening and memorization of Scripture.
  2. Literature and Reading Aloud - including reading aloud to students two hours per day; memorization and oral narration; student reads good literature; oral interpretation.
  3. History - history notebook; outlining; maps; timeline; use primary sources; biographies; history contests and projects.
  4. Composition - copywork; dictation; letters; journals; outlining.
  5. Spelling and English Grammar - English language notebook; grammar and spelling.
  6. Latin and Greek - Greek alphabet; Latin grammar at age ten or eleven - students are ready for the abstract study of grammar by age ten.
  7. Early Logic - at age ten: Building Thinking Skills Book 2; at age eleven BTS Book 3: Figural; at age twelve: BTS Book 3: Verbal - most students aren't ready for a more formal course in logic until about age thirteen.
  8. Arithmetic - sixth grade math at age ten, seventh grade at age eleven, and eighth grade at age twelve.
  9. Science - interest directed; read books, watch videos on science and creation; simple experiments and projects; provide tools; visit science fairs.
  10. Art and Music - provide space, materials, and time; could pursue formal music or art lessons.

May the classical approach and the Charlotte Mason approach be used together successfully?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: The classical approach and the CM approach fit together quite well. We wrote an article on that subject which you can find at http// Also, Chapter Ten of our book describes how all of the different approaches to homeschooling - Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Principle Approach, etc. -- fit into the Trivium Model for education.

Why is the study of ancient languages important?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: Language is at the heart of everything you learn, and studying other languages is tremendously stimulating to the intellect. We get to the heart of cultures and civilizations through their languages. The English language is the largest and most cross-bred language in history, and its culture has spread everywhere. We need to cross-breed our English with a knowledge of other languages, but particularly of ancient languages, because it is the ancient languages which contain the intellectual vigor which we need, but which is becoming less and less available in modern languages.

We specifically advocate the classical languages of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew - but not necessarily for the "classical" reasons. We advocate Latin for its importance in English as well as in other languages. Over half of English is Latin, and the Latin in English is purer than the Latin in any other language - including the languages which are directly derived from Latin. The scientists and doctors and lawyers (until recent times) have gone to Latin and Greek for their terminology. Also, the study of Latin will do much to prepare one for the study of the Romance languages (Spanish, French, etc.) and other inflected languages (German, Russian, etc.) We advocate Greek for its importance in Biblical study. Nobody who masters Greek will ever be satisfied with returning to his English Bible to pursue a careful study of God's Word. There is too much Greek lost and too much English added in the translations. We advocate Hebrew for its importance in Biblical culture. Cultural principles of just law and godly order are imbedded in the language of the Biblical record of the Hebrew nation. Even the Greek of the New Testament is a Jewish Greek - that is, a Greek strongly influenced by Hebrew language and culture. From approximately A.D. 500 until A.D. 1500, the original Greek and Hebrew texts of Scripture were ignored, and the Latin Vulgate translation was studied instead. Humanly speaking, it was a revival in Greek and Hebrew study which sparked a revival in Biblical study which then sparked the Reformation.

When should languages - ancient or modern - be studied? On the conversational and written level, the earlier the better. The sooner you can train the ear and the tongue, the eye and the hand, the better. Young children can master strange alphabets (Hebrew and Greek). They can also memorize portions in Hebrew and English, or Greek and English, or Latin and English, and gradually learn to make short exchanges in a foreign language. (We actually do this every day: Et cetera. Eureka. Shalom. Faux pas. Gesundheit.) Of course, if you can fluently speak these languages at home, your children will pick them up easily, but we'll probably need to wait a couple of generations before the homeschool subculture recovers to that level. The "textbook" grammar level of language study - parts of speech and the like - must wait until about age ten and older. Chapter Five of our book lays out principles for developing a classical language program.

How can a homeschooling parent who knows nothing of ancient languages effectively teach them?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: A specialized tool has been developed for private language study - the programmed-interactive method - and this method meets, like hand in glove, the problem of how to return to a culture which is literate in classical languages. You don't need to know the language in order to teach it, and you don't need a teacher in order to learn it, because the text is itself the teacher. The program takes the student step-by-step through the normal learning process (the Trivium) - introducing information, explaining how it fits together, and demonstrating how to use it. The interaction simulates a teacher who strengthens the student's learning by continually asking him questions, then confirming or correcting his answers. Learning progresses step-by-step at the student's own pace. Diagnostic tests identify what has not been learned and must be restudied. In other words, the programmed-interactive method functions as an expert and a patient tutor in the language.

What products do you have to support ancient language study?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: At the alphabet level, we produce illustrated booklets for learning the Greek and Hebrew (and soon, the Latin) alphabets. We also produce a Greek alphabet curriculum for all ages, called A Greek Alphabetarion, which covers the Greek alphabet and phonetic system thoroughly. The Greek Alphabetarion is preparatory to our self-teaching programmed-interactive Greek grammar for ages thirteen and up, called Homeschool Greek. We also sell Artes Latinae, which is a self-teaching programmed-interactive Latin curriculum for ages ten and up. We are still looking for a Hebrew curriculum which is self-teaching and which we are satisfied most homeschoolers can handle successfully. [2008 - The Bluedorns have also added A Greek Hupogrammon: A Beginner's Copybook for the Greek Alphabet with Pronunciations to their line-up of Greek products.]

Finally, we sell interlinear Hebrew and Greek Bibles, including a beautiful and durable leather bound New Testament.

What particular doctrine, if any, do your books and materials support?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: What we believe comes out in what we write.

Scripture is our starting point, and we seek to deduce all things from the propositional truths of Scripture. This is the only way to establish firm ground upon which to stand. If we measured all things by our own standard - our own notions and speculations and ideals and values and desires and goals - then we would be humanists - doing what is right in our own eyes. Instead, we must measure all things by the standard of Scripture and thereby seek to do what is right in God's eyes. At least we seriously pursue this course, and we change our mind and our conduct when we find that we have erred.

We believe in the sovereignty of God in all things. With this confidence, we seek to establish (not impose) the order of His Kingdom in all places and to apply His righteous law to all things (not force it upon all things). We believe God's order in the world places the family at the foundation and starting point. The family order is the seed bed for the economic order, the civil order, and the religious order. The restoration of family order is fundamental to the restoration of order in all other jurisdictions or spheres of authority. And family order requires that husbands and fathers be restored to fully-functioning heads of household and lovers of their wives and children, and that wives and mothers be restored to fully-functioning keepers of the home and lovers of their husbands and children. Only after family order is re-established will the other jurisdictions begin to fall into proper order. Transformation works from the foundation up and from the inside out, not from the top down and the outside in.

If a family has just found out about the Trivium and their children are in their teens, how would they begin? Is it even possible?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: If you ever learned anything, you learned it by the Trivium, whether you knew it or not. But it's generally better to know what you're doing. Whether you're a youth, an adult, or a grandparent, you can always do things to improve and sharpen your language skills, your reasoning skills, and your communication skills.

Specifically, a youth can establish a foundation in language, logic, and elocution. These are the basic tools. Include the mastering of these three tools in your curriculum, and apply them in all of your other studies. It's never too late. You can begin as adults. At we give a suggested course of study for logic. You could begin studying classical languages using one of the self-teaching Latin or Greek courses. You can begin to read, discuss, and write about selections from classical literature. Chapter Nine of our book will help you to develop guidelines for choosing what literature is worthy of study.

When and how should students study civics and current events?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: Current events is not a formal course, but an as-it-occurs evaluation of what is happening. It is part of life. The broadcast media create and present news and current events in a way which is calculated to sweep you along in its direction - whether self-consciously so, or simply as a natural expression of their philosophical presuppositions. Therefore, in evaluating current events, it is necessary that you formulate your principles, values, and ideals beforehand, or else the media will move you in the direction of accepting its values - what it thinks is important or unimportant - and its perspective - how it thinks you should look at things. This is as true of conservative and religious media as it is of liberal and humanistic media. If you're going to study current events, you have to be in contact with the media in some way. Use multiple sources, and compare sources. This will help you to evaluate the bias and credibility of sources. The internet can often provide an interesting contrast of information and perspectives. Always look for God's perspective of the event. Look for the many propaganda techniques and logical fallacies which run rampant through the news media. No wonder they don't teach logic in school any more. It would put the news services out of business. There's nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), so try to find how this current event is repeated in history, and what steps should be taken to either repeat it or avoid it - depending on the event.

Civics is the study of the rights and duties of a citizen. Good citizenship does not mean community service and showing up at the polls on election day. Good citizenship begins in the family, by fulfilling your duties and walking in good order as a husband and father, wife and mother, child and sibling. Outside of the family, good citizenship means informing and indoctrinating your representatives in the principles of jurisdiction and holding them publicly accountable - in the political, the religious, and the economic realms. In the civil realm (which is what most people mean by civics), a good starting place might be First Steps to Statesmanship: Essays on the First Principles of Christian Statesmanship, along with the 25 audio / video tape series, Studies in Christian Statesmanship: Studies in Principle, with seminars by R.C. Sproul Jr., Herb Titus, Dan Eby, Chris Strevel, James Rose, Marshall Foster, and Stephen McDowell, available from AHP, P.O. Box 241, Leavenworth, Washington, 98826-0241, Phone 888-396-6247.

You recommend that the father should lead family worship time and Bible study. How should families study theology if the father is not willing or able to teach it?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: If the father is an unbeliever, then pray earnestly for his conversion. If he is a believer, then pray earnestly that he see his obligation. If there is some technical difficulty - conflict in schedules of family members, physical disability, etc. - then it is the father's jurisdiction to determine how best to resolve that. It is through leading and teaching his family that he will grow strong in faith and in understanding of the Scriptures. In times past, Christian men, no matter how humble their upbringing and circumstances, were mighty in the Scriptures because they taught their families the Word of God. As the father has relinquished his authority and responsibility to others, so the fathers have faded and the families have faltered. As a result, the churches have wandered, and the remainder of the culture has fallen. The establishment of Christian culture - whether on the level of the family, the church, the community, or other spheres - ultimately depends upon the fathers returning to their proper rule, role, and relationship.

How does your new book, Teaching the Trivium, differ from the plethora of classical books and magazines which are now available?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: We've been promoting this approach among homeschoolers for a dozen years, but it has only been in the past three or four years that we've actually seen much interest in it. This is the new thing. (But actually, it's the old thing.) Our book is written specifically for a Christian homeschool audience. Non-Christians and non-homeschoolers will find things to disagree with in what we have written. We are less interested in promoting what is traditionally called "classical" education in a purely academic mold, and more interested in promoting an education which is classically Christian in all respects. We are not saying that ours is the only Christian way to do the details, but it is one way, and we hope it serves well as an example for others to develop their own way.

Should homeschooled Christian children attend college either as "dual enrolled" students during Trivium studies or after completing the Trivium?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: If you're talking about correspondence courses, or taking selected specialized courses from an instructor at a local campus, "dual enrollment" may be the best of both worlds.

We have, however, taken the bold step of pushing the envelope and calling for a reconsideration of the whole "race for the college campus" question. We have seen too many examples of it being a race over the cliff - spiritually, intellectually, culturally, financially, and even physically. The presumption should not be that when a student reaches age eighteen he should leave home and go off to campus. Between age eighteen and twenty is when the moral conscience is being strengthened and solidified. Especially today, the campus culture and the college classroom - even in Christian colleges - is a dangerous place to be forming the conscience. The family should still be the primary moral influence until age twenty, and that does not often match well with living on campus. College by correspondence, college by testing, apprenticeships, and other such programs are legitimate options with many advantages over campus colleges. The campus college is itself a tool which you must use to your own advantage. We believe you should consider all of your options before deciding which road to take. If you have specific goals in mind which a particular college can satisfy, if you understand the dangers, the costs, and the alternatives, and you know how to handle these things within God's order and by God's rules, and if you are certain that this is God's leading - not the pressures of the world, your own flesh, or an unfounded philosophy - then college may be where you belong. Chapter Fifteen of our book discusses the college question more thoroughly.

We have one more ancillary thought. The Trivium gives students the tools for teaching themselves. This matches well with homeschooling because it renders much outside instruction unnecessary. Classroom and campus are rendered less necessary. There remain some specialized skills and fields of knowledge which may require, or at least are made easier by, some personal or classroom instruction. It is at that point that the college campus should be considered an option. In our opinion, the overwhelming success of homeschooling has proven the child classroom factory model to be less efficient and less effective. We prefer the custom-built homeschool model.

This is not quite so true about adult education, where the classroom model may be more effective in specialized fields of knowledge. The Biblical model of the church may serve as an example here. The teaching in the gathered church may be compared to an efficient adult classroom where fully accountable adults receive instruction. The father knows all of what the family hears in the church assembly. Back home, he explains and (if necessary) amends what was taught in church. In our opinion, the homeschooling model creates a pressure for the church to return to this Biblical model, where parents are instructed at church, and children are instructed at home. Furthermore, homeschooling creates a pressure to restructure higher education into models which are not disruptive to family and societal order, and which efficiently serve specialized purposes instead of socialist goals. Homeschooling is the cutting edge of a renaissance in education. Transformation begins from the bottom up and from the inside out.

Many thanks to the Bluedorns for sharing their thoughts with us here at!

Related Resources

Question and Answer Session with the Bluedorns's Classical and Charlotte Mason Resource Section
Review of Teaching the Trivium by the Bluedorns
Review of Lives In Print
Review of Hand That Rocks the Cradle
Review of How to Be a Civil War Re-enactor
Review of A Greek Alphabetarion
Review of Greek Hupogrammon
Review of Ancient History from Primary Sources
Review of The Fallacy Detective
Review of The Thinking Toolbox
Review of Logic in 100 Minutes
Review of Bless the Lord
Review of Little Bitty Baby Learns Hebrew and Little Bitty Baby Learns Greek
Review of The Lord Builds the House
Review of Mr. Pippin
Review of My Mommy, My Teacher