Saturday, August 27, 2016

Streamlining the Classical Curriculum

I cannot even begin to explain how much effort I've put into researching and learning about the Trivium - all the endless websearches and the many books I've been reading - often about the history of ancient education and the politics behind how it came forward into the modern world, how it was modified in the process, and how and why it's been dropped from public schooling - as well as how it's been modified for today's private school and homeschooling versions. I'm far from having anything like a complete picture; a subject like this is way too vast to ever hope to achieve complete understanding, but I don't require complete understanding - what I'm after is a good-enough understanding to formulate a solid grasp of the important and necessary elements for a middle aged man in today's world who doesn't want to be elderly before completing the program!

I look at this, not as a complete re-education, but as a turbo-charged upgrade to the modern public school educatin' I've already got. English was always a favorite subject of mine and I did very well in it, frequently getting little notes scrawled across the top of my papers in red ballpoint concerning my excellent writing abilities. In math not so much - in fact quite the opposite. Oh, there were often notes in red ink - but they were not nearly as pleasant!

But what I want to get out of this is an enhanced facility with words in particular - with words and with the conceptual skills required for excellent writing/speaking.

Sorry if some readers are a little lost here - I'm not sure if I've stated yet that since discovering the Trivium (the classical 3-tiered education system combining Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric to forge students into powerfully creative and persuasive communicators of the first rank) I've decided that I must acquire this type of education for myself! In fact I'm driven by a compulsion for it - an overriding obsession that so far has found no limits.

I believe I mentioned previously - though it may have been deleted in last post's extensive reworking - that I've been looking at homeschooling material and that it all seems to be published entirely by Christian organizations, with a strong Biblical influence added onto the Classical (ancient Greek and Roman) curriculum. In fact I've recently learned that the term Trivium, while it was originally coined by the Greeks back somewhere near Aristotle's time, received a far stronger emphasis at the hands of the Medieval church educators who borrowed it (therefore preserving it through the centuries and earning my eternal gratitude!) because they liken it to the Holy Trinity. So generally when you find a book or a school or a course calling it the Trivium, it's a specifically Christian version. I'm not bothered by the idea that Christian values have been grafted on, as long as it doesn't clutter up or dilute the actual learning experience, and especially as long as it doesn't extend the time it takes to get through the curriculum. Because see --- the time factor is one of the most important for me.

In fact there are elements of the classical version that I'm planning to excise for that reason --- to streamline the learning curve, even if it means missing out on some of the finer aspects of such an education --- I simply don't have the time remaining to pursue the complete course, as much as I'd love to.

The first thing to go, and this I decided right off the bat - I won't be learning how to speak or read Greek or Latin. That has always been a non-negotiatable element --- largely to allow reading of classical literature in its original language, such as Homer, Aristotle, Ovid, etc. Sorry, starting so late, this is just not an option!

Racing ahead as I am with this post, I might also have never mentioned that I've already bought and am beginning to study homeschooling material from Memoria Press. I found many suppliers of similar material online, all Christian as far as I can determine. Many of them seem to use the same books and materials. But any of the homeschooling sites may be as good or better, my research hasn't gone that deep. I simply found that Memoria's material was good enough for my purposes and didn't see any other site that stood out as being better, so I went with them.

I'm laying out for myself a fairly comprehensive course of study, beginning with the core Trivium of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. Of course, I've already been schooled in the basics of grammar and rhetoric, but looking through sample book pages on Memoria Press, it's clear they go way deeper than today's American public school education (or even yesteryear's, considering my primary education was late 60s/early 70s).

This extended thoroughness of the classical education does come with a price though, in the necessity to memorize a lot - and I do mean a LOT - of Greek terms. For example, take a gander at this partial list of figures of description:

Specific Kinds of Description 
  • topographia
    Description of a place. 
  • astrothesia 
    A vivid description of stars 
  • prosopographia
    The vivid description of someone's face or character; or, the description of feigned or imaginary characters. 
  • ethopoeia
    The description and portrayal of a character (natural propensities, manners and affections, etc.) 
  • pragmatographia
    Description of an action; a reported narrative. 
  • chronographia
    Vivid representation of a certain historical or recurring time (such as
    a season) 
  • characterismus
    Description of a person's character. 
  • effictio 
    A verbal depiction of someone's body, often from head to toe. 
  • icon
    A figure which paints the likeness of a person by imagery. 
  • peristasis
    A description of attendant circumstances. 
  • chorographia
    The description of a particular nation. 
  • geographia
    Vivid representation of the earth.
  • anemographia
    Description of the wind. 
  • dendrographia
    Description of a tree. 
  • topothesia
    Description of an imaginary place 
  • hydrographia
    Description of water.
... Very specific names for descriptions of trees, water, terrain, the physical appearance of people, their character/personality traits, and on and on! "Attendant circumstances" fer cryin' out loud!! The WIND!! Stars??!! Why do there need to be individual terms for each of them, all of which need to be memorized??! 

Well, this cowboy ain't got time for all that!! At the very least, why can't the names be in English? I'm sure it's because students are expected to be learning Greek and Latin alongside, so in that case I understand the expediency of it. But, as a friend of mine once said:

"I think not - therefore I AIN'T!!"

But I do recognize the brilliance of simply understanding that there are so many different kinds of descriptions to liven up a bit of writing. In fact that in itself is a part of why the classical education is so superior to the modern, which as I recall simply recommends "describe things." I certainly don't remember being made aware that there can be so many unique ways to describe things! But then my memory of grade school days is pretty dim and spotty, and it could be that some teachers go into more detail than others. 

So I'm going to eliminate the necessity for memorizing all these fancy-sounding Greek names - as cool as they all sound - which will greatly reduce the learning load on my poor brain, and leave more room and time for the actual descriptions themselves, which is the important part. So I'm reconfiguring the curriculum to my own specific needs.

In the immortal words of Bruce Lee: "Take what is useful and discard the rest."

All that said, some of the greek words are just so cool that I can't resist, and will be memorizing the ones that really get me going - like Anaphora, Epiphora and Simploce. They are respectively - repeating the beginning of a sentence or phrase, repeating the end of a sentence or phrase, and repeating both. That last sentence uses them all by the way...

I had to come up with a very colorful mnemonic device in order to memorize those terms, involving Ana Fora and her sister Epi, standing in a forest among groupings of tombstones for Sims characters. I remember Ana and Epi's names because Ana has very hairy legs, but Epi is holding her Epilady, which explains why she does not. The forest helps me remember the Phora, and as for the tombstones - well, they represent Sim Plots! It's been a long time since I had to come up with memory devices like this, and it's fun. And it works. It's also been a long time since I was in school and I had forgotten how brain-wracking the studying can be - though to a large extent the stress is necessary and helpful for learning.

Incidentally, if you've ever seen in an old movie where kids complain because they're struggling to "learn their figures" - it's the figures of speech they're referring to - they're reaping the benefit of the classical system. So don't feel too sorry for them - they doubtless got a far superior education to yours, unless you went to a private school or a really good college.

Or self-educated.

There's more I want to say about my self-administered homeschooling efforts, but this post is long enough already! I'll be touching on the subject more soon. 

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