An educational treatise that will stand the test of time: Trivium 21C by Martin Robinson


A review of the book ‘Trivium 21C‘ by Martin Robinson

Apparently (according to Plato) Socrates fretted that writing would erode memorization. Also, there is (somewhere in the world) a 1,700 year old piece of stone tablet with a student’s work on one side and a rude caricature of his teacher on the other. Years later, Dorothy L. Sayers pretty much said that kids should spend the whole of Key Stage 2 absorbing facts and knowledge. The pedagogical call to arms, ‘Trivium 21C’ by Martin Robinson, is liberally sprinkled with such anecdotes, along with interviews with heavy-weight educationalists, politico’s, journalists and more than one living philosopher. At times, it is so ambitious in its historical and philosophical scope that it reads like Holinshead’s Chronicles of Sophie’s World set in Grange Hill.

Robinson’s central thesis is that modern education has become an unstable product of political toing and froing between progressive, ‘guide on the side’ liberals and traditionalist, ‘sage on the stage’ grammarians. His argument is that, prior to the modern age, there existed a Trivium of academic disciplines that dealt more than adequately with this dichotomy between tradition and renewal. Robinson recommends returning to a Trivium based on modern equivalents like the International Baccalaureate.

To summarise ‘Trivium 21C’ in a few lines cannot begin to do justice to its sheer weight of erudition, thoughtfulness and humour. Robinson is motivated by a desire to provide an education fit for his daughter (something that few politicians, if they are being honest, do for the state education system in the UK. They have a tendency to regard state education from the outside not looking in). Robinson consistently returns to this motivation, ending the book with a particularly poignant line about his hopes and fears for his daughter’s education (which I won’t share, I’ll let you read it for yourself).

If you want to understand the trajectory of education over the last squillion years, and are interested in one man’s extremely compelling argument for where state education should go next, read ‘Trivium 21C’ – a manifesto for the marriage of a reverence for the best that has been thought and written to critical thinking skills and communication. With a dad like this, his daughter’s education is in very good hands.

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