Trivium


Excerpts from book: Bauer, Susan Wise. The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. NY: W.W. Norton, 1999.

"...the classical schoolmaster divides learning into three stages, generally known as the trivium. The first stage of education is called the grammar stage (in this case, "grammar" means the building blocks, the foundation knowledge of each academic subject)... to absorb information --not to evaluate it, but simply to learn it (18)... [It is critical at this point to be very open-minded.]

"Critical thinking comes into play during the second stage of education, the logic stage... students... decide whether information is correct or incorrect, and make connections between cause and effect, historical events, scientific phenomena, words, and their meanings (18-19)...

"...the final stage [is] the rhetoric stage, students learn to express their own opinions about the facts they have accumulated and evaluated (19)...

"...this pattern (learn facts, analyze them; express your opinions about them) applies... also... to reading. It is impossible to analyze on a first reading; you have to grasp a book's central ideas BEFORE you can evaluate them (19).

"...many adults... are ready to give their opinions long before they've had a chance to understand the topic under study. (Listen to any call-in radio show [or committee meeting].) And the habit of leaping directly to the rhetoric stage can prevent even mature minds from learning how to read [or research] properly (19)...

"When we sit in front of Plato or Shakespeare or Conrad, "simply reading" isn't enough. We must learn to fix our minds, to organize our reading so that we are able to retain the skeleton of the ideas that pass in front of our eyes. We must not simply read, Isaac Watts tells us, but "meditate and study," an act that "transfers and conveys the notions and sentiments of others to ourselves, so as to make them properly our own."

"How is this done" By keeping a journal to organize your thoughts about your reading. What we write, we remember. What we summarize in our own words becomes our own (35)...

"As you read, you should follow this three-part process: jot down specific phrases, sentences, and paragraphs as you come across them; when you've finished your reading, go back and write a brief summary about what you've learned; and then write your own reactions, questions, and thoughts (36)...

General Principles For Reading:

1. "When you first read through a book, don't feel that you have to grasp completely every point that the writer is making. If you find yourself puzzled by a certain section, or... a particular term, [note the page number on the back fly leaf] and keep going. You'll have a chance to come back to that confusing section later on. The secret to reading a difficult book is simply this: Keep reading. You don't have to "get it all" the very first time through (42)...

"So the first stage of reading [is] just read, and keep reading... your goal is to finish with a surface acquaintance that will deepen into true understanding as you read again to evaluate and analyze. If you don't understand... scribble a question mark in the margin [or note the page number on the back fly leaf] and keep going. You may well find that the earlier chapters of a book, confusing on first reading, suddenly make sense to you as you reach the book's middle or end.

2. "Underline in your books, jot notes in the margins, and turn the corners of your pages down [or, better, note the page numbers on the back fly leaf; turning down pages ruins a book].

3. "When you first begin to read a book, read the title page, the copy on the back cover, and the table of contents. This puts you "in the picture" before you begin to read. Do NOT automatically read the preface... [it] can give you an interpretation before you even read the book -- something to be avoided...

4. "Don't take extensive notes on a first reading... Instead, stop at the end of each chapter (or substantial section) to jot down a sentence--two at the most--in your journal... summarize the chapter's content, main assertion, or most important event... You're constructing a broad outline (44)...

5. "As you read, use your journal to jot down questions... disagreements or agreements with the writer... reflections or connected thoughts that the book brings to your mind...

"...note page numbers beside your comments, since you may want to go back and reread some sections...

6. Underline important passages for review later...

"Your first reading has given you a basic understanding of the book's parts and how they fit together (45)... "...the next step: evaluation... differs enormously from genre to genre...

"...approach each KIND of book... with a distinct set of questions"... the author here goes into detail on the questions to ask.


Colby Glass, MLIS