Martin Robinson sets out on a quest to discover the kind of education he wishes
for his daughter and we all learn a great deal in the process. I love his writing: wise,well informed, provocative, thinking-out-loud. Robinson engages his reader from first to last. A terrific feat.
Melissa Benn, writer and author of School Wars: The Battle for Britain’s Education
Part reflective autobiography, part educational manifesto, Trivium 21c is both a
richly erudite and engagingly relevant exploration of the purposes and philosophies underlying the enterprise of education. From ancient Greece through to contemporary controversy, Robinson draws resonantly on his experience as a student and a teacher to demonstrate that the ‘trivium’, the ‘triple way’, of grammar,dialectic, and rhetoric, still lies at the heart of a ‘good education’, albeit in new forms. With refreshing realism, he recognises that teachers in their work in the classroom often transcend many of the political storms about education. Citing almost every contemporary protagonist from our own era, he advances an approach which he describes as ‘progressive traditionalism’. Trivium 21c is essential reading for all educators and observers of the seemingly endless public debate about education who wish to go beyond simplistic polarities and find a way to integrate and relate in a historical context seemingly contradictory approaches.
Ian Bauckham Head Teacher and President, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) 2013-14
In schools today, a focus on contemporary relevance too often trumps educational
depth. Martin Robinson makes a compelling case that turning instead to the tradition of the liberal arts can open the minds of a new generation.
Marc Sidwell, co-author of The School of Freedom, Managing Editor City A.M.
This is a charming book which is fun to read; it is contemplative and self-reflective and at the same time it is well-researched, informative, and genuinely scholarly. What the book does very well is to unpick the tensions between educationalist progressives and traditionalists and it attempts to identify differences but also importantly to seek common ground. Indeed it is a historical tour de force examining the origins and development of the ‘liberal arts’ from the early Greeks through Shakespearian times to the present day. What makes the book so readable is that it is a journey of self-reflection on what it means to be educated from the point of view of the author as a schoolboy, a teacher, and then a parent seeking an appropriate school for his daughter.
The early part of the book looks at the author’s own schooling and the frustrations he experienced. Learning appeared to be chaotic and many pupils were apparently left to ‘fail’ by not being equipped with the skills necessary to succeed at school. The book then traces his later employment and his experiences as a schoolteacher and how he changed the way he taught to make learning more meaningful and authentic for his pupils. His journey is one of becoming a teacher who adopts innovative approaches to teaching: teaching for meaning, values, and deep learning.
The argument of the book is for a ‘trivium’ of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric.
The three elements of the trivium would be developed simultaneously, and once
mastered it is expected that a student would have acquired the knowledge, the
reasoning skills, and the ability to communicate well, which would stand them in
good stead for a good life. What Robinson is asking for is the building blocks for thriving at school, the underpinning principles of learning that many teachers assume that pupils already possess but which many do not. I am not convinced that this book will unite traditionalists and progressives in a mutual quest of school improvement, but for the open-minded reader there is much to learn. I agree with Robinson that for students to acquire a sound blend of knowledge, questioning expertise, and communication skills (i.e. the trivium) is the basis of a great education.
Dr Jacek Brant, Head of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment (CPA), Senior Lecturer in Business Education, Institute of Education, University of London
Martin Robinson embarks on a highly engaging personal quest to discover what
matters in education. By drawing not just on lessons and frustrations from his
extensive experience as an educator, but also on the hopes and anxieties that he
feels as a new parent, he transcends the often stale trench lines of many arguments about education between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’, recognising that rival important insights about the foundations of learning and knowledge need not be polar opposites. Robinson’s own synthesis offers an ambitious vision of how to pursue an educational ideal as a practical project. Anybody interested in education, citizenship, or how we want our children to learn would find this a thought-provoking read.
Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future,
the independent think tank