A week and a half after my husband and I decided to homeschool, I found myself at my first Classical Conversations Practicum, still not sure what CC was about or whether we should choose it for our family. Three days of changing my perception, reordering my mindset and receiving revelation about myself were in store.
My First Look at the Trivium
The first morning began with an explanation of the classical method and stages of the trivium: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. Not only do these stages roughly fit three stages of childhood, the trivium is also the three stages of learning any subject or skill, regardless of age. In a nutshell, the grammar contains of the essential knowledge of a subject: definitions, facts, numbers. Dialectic is the phase of questioning and processing that information to understand it. Finally, in the rhetoric stage learners share, present or really do something with what they’ve learned.
How fascinating! I couldn’t wait to tell my husband all about what I was learning. In fact, I began imagining the conservation we’d have right then and there. But while the details about the classical model I wanted to explain to my husband were accurate, the connections to childhood and education which sounded so eloquent coming from the stage were scattered and disconnected in my silent monologue.
Suddenly, I finally understood a common glitch in my exposition. I was skipping the dialectic stage! Since I found the facts (grammar) so interesting, I rushed ahead to tell someone everything I’d just heard (rhetoric). I wasn’t slowing down to analyze the information and make connections with other subjects I was already familiar with (dialectic).
Missing Out on the Dialectic Stage
Often I was so excited to pass on someone else’s knowledge and someone else’s understanding of a new subject that I tried to recite every word they said. I hadn’t taken ownership of the knowledge. And that’s why I never thought of myself as a teacher; my new knowledge was not fully mine to teach. How many times had I sounded like I didn’t know what I was talking about, all because I didn’t take time to grapple with the grammar before jumping to the next stage? By speeding through the dialectic, I was not understanding a new subject as much as I could. The dialectic stage adds depth to our learning. It’s not enough to know something, we should understand it.
I love learning and I love sharing what I learn. While I still hightail it to the rhetoric stage sometimes, that morning seven years ago was an important step in redeeming my own education. When I slow down, processing what I’ve learned and connecting it to other subjects, I learn it at a higher degree. Then when I restate what I understand–not only repeating what someone else has told me–my rhetoric is more meaningful and more persuasive.
Let me encourage you: the next time you meet a new subject, become friends with it. Don’t settle for remaining its acquaintance by skipping the dialectic stage.