That vision thing (part I) Trivium 21c

That vision thing (part I) Trivium 21c

This next sequence of posts will seek to address the rhetorical question at the end of my last:

“School leaders work hard to provide a compelling vision for their schools. How powerful it would be if there were a compelling national vision, one that was consensual and long term, one the Government could promote and be proud of. Imagine what could be achieved then.”

But what could the new look like?

Using three texts that capture current educational debate from different perspectives, these brief blogs / book-reviews will hopefully recommend further reading and make my thinking visible for those in the schools I (will) lead.

 I considered the order of reading carefully and began with:


Trivium 21c is a contemporary text book for thought about education. The central tenet is that we can learn from an ancient construct for thinking:

Grammar (the transfer of knowledge and culture) submits itself to dialectic (the contemporary analysis, discussion, challenge and debate), which can, in turn, bring about progress, creative tension, destruction and change … Rhetoric is a peroration, an art of summation, of evaluation. It has both an informal and formal role, embracing methods through which young people can become more confident citizens and communicate and celebrate what it is to feel, to think, to be eloquent…” Pages 143-144

Robinson imbues this model of education with a moral purpose and intensity. Each element of the Trivium is seen as crucial in a model for lifelong learning. As a Drama teacher his rhetoric carries authenticity; he has arrived at theory through experience and found a fit and, although he appears a liberal artist by instinct, scientific strands within the Trivium are considered equally. The Trivium is a vision of an education open to all abilities. It is truly egalitarian in this sense and deeply conservative in others in its respect for tradition and culture as a basis for enquiry for all. But then this is a book that seeks to harmonise the schisms of traditionalism and progressivism and does so convincingly.

I too have problems with “hole-in-the-wall” educational theory – the democratisation of knowledge (early nod to Learning with ‘e”s by Steve Wheeler) – in that accessibility appears to preclude thought about provenance or an ability to do anything “new” with it.

The CPU of our imaginations could be left out of the mix.

In this sense I am also a Grammarian. I feel we learn best in all disciplines following considered, structured ingestion. This could be seen as a romantic vision of an individual’s sense of place in the world. Not one in which being an individual is enough, in itself, to warrant equal consideration or merit but one in which one’s sense of self is measured against the best there is to know and learn from.

Success may be said to be the product of Grammar, experience and relationships. When Keats wrote, “If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all,” he was, perhaps, being slightly disingenuous. He had learnt his Grammar prior to unleashing his talent. Poets’ early works are often derivative until a genuine voice emerges – even-so with Keats.


Even Keats knew his Grammar and his place, a constant prick to his ambition. 

Coleridge’s theory of the “esemplastic” imagination as creative agency, similar to Shelley’s image of coals suddenly fanned brighter by unpredictable imaginative breezes, suggests the creative act is one of re-shaping what is known, perhaps something one has committed to memory.

I can make this allusion because I have studied these texts. I know them. Even if I’m not sure on a point, I will know where to look. This is Grammar. We need these precepts in order to be able to question them and to shape new ideas.

Robinson is an advocate of a “meaningful education,” leading young people out of their caves (a particularly resonant image for me as a parent of three teenage gamers), to “face outwards” in the physical realm towards other questioners, creators, communicators.

As a philosophical digest, Trivium 21c, (occasionally straining to reference every source), is a convincing narrative of parent and pedagogue. It has a light, easy style and is well worth reading in its entirety. It has a Grammar of its own.

The final sections on the hierarchy of teaching, learning and assessment strategies within the Trivium don’t feel like buzzwords bundled into columns (one could easily form that opinion without reading the theory that preceded them). They can be used to inform practice. See Tom Sherrington’s post on how Highbury Grove are incorporating the Trivium into their planning.

School leaders have a responsibility to connect the education they provide with what will follow. Our students need to experience an authentic, open, multi-disciplinary environment among “real” people and opportunities.

One of the heartening elements of reading Trivium 21c was the recognition that some of the things we’ve been developing at DHSB sit neatly within its propositions, for example: The Market Hall development in Devonport as model of an authentic, connected, community learning space; The Learning Commons as manifestation of a staff and student learning culture; working to develop rhetorical impact via Toastmasters within our burgeoning Duke of Edinburgh programme.

My only lingering doubt is that Robinson’s journey or logos is mine also. We have both become better, more expert learners in the 20 years following our formal education. It could easily not have been this way. Teaching as one of the greatest vocations necessitates continued reading and learning but there is not always the time, will or resource for all teachers to engage.

Robinson’s immersion in contemporary theory and debate points the way forward. He is a lively practitioner of the Trivium in his blogs and in the “Delphic” arena of Twitter. This is contemporary sagacity at its best – immediate, interactive, responsive.