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Is Dorothy Sayers’ Trivium Method True to Christian Ideas About Education?

[Dorothy] Sayers’ approach to education was very much in line with the psychological emphasis of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as it was manifested in John Dewey’s psychological educational emphasis. Like Dewey, Sayers’ educational philosophy is “child-centered.” Her trivium is framed, as she herself states, in terms of modern “child psychology.” This is one of the huge shifts in emphasis that marks off modern thinking from distinctively classical thinking…

In classical education, the old liberal arts were important, but they were merely the “handmaids” of learning. They played only one role, and a subordinate one, in the drama of learning. They constituted its means, not its end. Sayers confuses the means of education with its end, or perhaps more accurately, she considers the means the end itself.

In the modern educational world, where technique trumps teaching, Sayers’ trivium provides classical educators with a method we can call our own. Instead of repudiating the Modern Madness of Method we settle for saying, “My method is better than your method.” This is not a classical impulse. The classical impulse is to focus primarily on the ideal person we are trying to form and the models by which this may be done…

Classical education is the inculcation of wisdom and virtue

Process and content are not mutually exclusive. What is needed is a proper balance between the two, but a balance that places an unambiguous emphasis on the content that forms the student’s soul

If we articulate classical education as method…then we will have replaced one modern mistake with a  similar one no less modern.

I don’t mean to knock Dorothy, since I came into the classical Christian educational tradition through her, but these are the kinds of things Christian parents and Christian educators need to be evaluating. What is it, really, that we are doing? And does what we’re doing, however well it might work (better than the modern educational models), align with what Scripture calls us to in formation and discipleship of our children? How can we best accomplish truly Christian goals for education?

This excerpt is from “Classical Education is More Than a Method” by Martin Cothran in the spring 2018 issue of The Classical Teacher that recently landed in my mailbox. If you don’t get this free Memoria Press magalog (magazine/catalog), you should.

ETA: This article is now available online.


Becky Aniol

About Becky Aniol

Becky holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and music, a master's degree in Christian education, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Christian education. She taught classical upper school grammar, literature, and history and lower school composition and grammar for two years, elementary school music for one year, and Kindermusik classes for four years before the birth of her children. She now loves staying home with her four children, Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline and homeschooling them classically.

3 Responses to Is Dorothy Sayers’ Trivium Method True to Christian Ideas About Education?

  1. It’s not, but Memoria Press does generally post these articles on their website sometime within the year they appear in The Classical Teacher, so this article should be online eventually.

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