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Teaching The Trivium, Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style

by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn

Review by Martha Robinson

Teaching The Trivium, Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn, 637 pages, paperback, $32.99, available from Trivium Pursuit and HomeschoolChristian.com's affiliate links to Amazon or ChristianBookDistributors.

Are you looking for a voice of experience in the classical Christian homeschooling world? Pioneers in the Christian homeschooling movement, the Bluedorns began homeschooling in 1980 when their oldest son was five. They admit to making wrong turns in their quest to implement the Trivium at home, and we are the beneficiaries of their experiences as expressed in the new book, Teaching The Trivium. With the overriding themes of bonding to family (rather than peers) and following the Lord's calling, the Bluedorns make a strong case for both homeschooling and the classical Christian approach.

Teaching the Trivium is actually an expanded version of eight booklets that the Bluedorns wrote on the Trivium. They have included information from their seminars, feedback from other homeschoolers, research, and many opinions based upon their twenty-plus years of experience in homeschooling. The book may be divided loosely into four sections that are detailed below.

I. The introductory section

The Bluedorns begin by explaining the difference between a "classical" education and a "classical Christian" education, a point that is particularly important with the increasing popularity of the classical approach. While cautioning that families should not try to recreate the classroom at home, they highlight why families should follow the Trivium methodology: academic achievement, creation of a self-teaching student, and the Biblical basis of learning. In the second chapter the Bluedorns offer the question, "Who should control education: parents or the state?" They explain in an impressive and most persuasive style why government schools conflict with Biblical principles and Christian values. "Classroom schools" are then compared to homeschooling with homeschooling being the most favorable for a host of reasons including the artificial environment of age segregated groups, inappropriate behavior caused by gender mixing and a variety of values among the students, and the bonding to peers and teachers rather than family. The introductory section is completed with an explanation of the Trivium, using an analogy, that I found distressing, comparing the child's stages in the Trivium to a computer, and a comparison with outcome-based education.

II. The argument section

The next several chapters of Teaching the Trivium are arguments for teaching classical languages (Latin, Greek, and Hebrew), logic, and rhetoric. The Bluedorns are proponents of reading the Scriptures in the original languages so this is the major thrust of their argument for fluency in classical languages. The next chapters discuss when and how to study classic and historical literature from a Christian point of view. This section ends with a discourse on how different methods such as Charlotte Mason, unit study, and principle approach fit in with the Trivium. The Bluedorns make it very clear that they reject the notion of unschooling.

III. The "how-to" section

Here the Bluedorns offer helpful, original ideas for implementation of the Trivium using both purchased and home-grown curricula and sample schedules for families with children of all ages. This section is very valuable to families struggling to implement classical Christian education.

A. The "early knowledge" level (birth to age 10) is described first. The Bluedorns suggest that this period should not be one of academic focus; but rather, parents should focus on helping a child's character develop through diligent work habits, service to others, and honoring God and parents. Activities suggested for this period include reading aloud for two hours per day, use of narration, copy book, and memorization, keeping notebooks for history and English, developing expertise in phonics, learning the Greek alphabet, participating in arts and crafts, field trips, and play time. Family Bible study is prescribed for all levels.

B. The "later knowledge" level (ages 10 to twelve) is the time to begin formal studies in the Bluedorn's methodology. The history notebook should be expanded to include maps, timelines, and outlines. English language activities from the "early knowledge" level should continue with the addition of spelling, grammar, and composition in the form of dictation, letters, and a journal. Latin studies should begin at this time and Greek readings from an interlinear book should be introduced. A formal math program and introductory logic (Building Thinking Skills) should also start in this level. The Bluedorns suggest that art, music, and science should be pursued based upon the child's interests. Family Bible study and reading aloud of good quality literature continue.

C. The "understanding" level (ages 13 to 15), corresponding to the logic stage, is next. This is the time for great expansion in the parents' minds as well as the child's. Activities from previous stages, such as family worship, notebook activities, and reading aloud, continue while others are added. Greek, algebra, geometry, and logic in the form of "critical thinking" are some of the new subjects. The Bluedorns recommend combining history and literature at this point and studying history chronologically from primary sources whenever possible. Composition skills should be honed with work in outlining, written narration, summaries, essays, and creative writing. The Bluedorns highly recommend speech and debate as great mind exercisers and urge families to spend a minimum of seven hours per week on this. With the idea that contests are great motivators, they suggest that students should enter science fairs, debate contests, and writing contests. Formal music lessons may begin during this time if the child is interested.

D. The "understanding" level is followed by the "wisdom" level for young adults ages 16 to 18. The "wisdom" level is the time to be creative and to apply the facts and theories learned earlier. History, literature, reading aloud, Bible study, and Greek continue. The Bluedorns suggest specific resources for study of rhetoric and more in-depth logic. Trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus are recommended with engineering or computer science as potential alternatives if the student does not wish to go so far with math. Biology, chemistry, and possibly physics should be studied with emphasis on entry into more contests. The Bluedorns stress the importance of preparing all children for marriage during this stage. The girls must be ready for managing a home and the boys for making a living.

E. In the final part of this section, the "finishing" level, the Bluedorns philosophize about principles for setting goals and making decisions about future life. They discuss whether college is really needed to reach these goals and offer alternatives such as college at home or an apprenticeship. The Bluedorns offer hope for the future as our homeschooled children grow up with a new vision for education, family values, and nurturing of Christian children.

IV. The appendix

A wealth of support material is included in the appendix. Dorothy Sayers' "The Lost Tools of Learning" is reproduced in its totality. Backup material for some of the hypotheses offered in the book appear here as well as far ranging articles about ancient alphabets, which Bible translation is the best, and what contests are open to homeschoolers. Other articles offer pointers on public speaking and give suggestions on how to start a debate club.

Recommendation: With the phenomenal increase in interest in the classical approach, families are searching for the one method that is right. Teaching the Trivium offers valuable insight into one of the many ways to implement classical Christian education at home successfully. Bringing their strong emphasis on scriptural truth from a Reformed perspective, the Bluedorns emphasize a focus on the individual child's development cycle as well as flexibility for larger families and non-school situations that demand the family's attention. They do not offer a "one size fits all" path to classical education. Each family may use a variety of materials implemented in a more relaxed way to achieve the result of thinking adults who have a firm grasp on their faith.

The Bluedorns' methodology seeks to prepare the child for the role each will play in adult life. The Bluedorns question the value of college and suggest that young men should find a way to support their families while working from home in entrepreneurial enterprises. They view the Trivium as a way to develop a well-trained soul AND mind. The Bluedorns' opinions are firmly expressed and they use all the logic and rhetoric skills that they have learned to persuade you to agree with their points of view. Even if you do not agree with the Bluedorns' theological perspective or revolutionary methodology, you will finish this thought provoking book with many new ideas, an increased view of the importance of religious studies throughout the curriculum, and a positive, hopeful view of a future new generation of Christian homeschoolers.

Other HomeschoolChristian resources related to this review:

HomeschoolChristian.com's Classical Homeschooling Section with resources, links, and ideas for implementing the Christian Trivium
Interview with the Bluedorns
Question and Answer Session with the Bluedorns
Review of Ancient History from Primary Sources: A Literary Timeline
Review of A Thomas Jefferson Education, Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century by Oliver Van DeMille
Review of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Supplemental Materials by Oliver and Rachel Van DeMille
Review of Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist
Review of Introduction to Classical Studies
Review of Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning and Classical Education and the Home School by Douglas Wilson
Review of The Latin Centered Curriculum
Review of The Trivium, The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric by Sister Miriam Joseph, C.S.C., Ph.D.

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