Last time I wrote about the paideia, the Greek word for education which meant upbringing of children. This was a quest for truth and a development of virtue. Education was not about teaching facts in order to prepare one for a future job. It was rather, to prepare one to live a virtuous life. Formal education was divided into a number of parts, and in this post I will discuss the first three.


Free Greek children began their education at about the age of seven with reading, writing and basic arithmetic. After they had learned to read and write, they were taught by a teacher of grammar. This did not just include the mechanics of the language, but also how to analyze great literary works with the grammatical tools they had mastered. Note that formal education did not begin in the “pre-school” years. Those years were formative in other ways, but not in academic pursuits.



As time progressed the next phase of their education, the Dialectic, came into play. It was the use of the tools learned in the first stage in order to construct arguments and think accurately, and was largely the practice of logic. It was at this point that the Socratic method could be used to great advantage. Socrates taught by questioning, and when the student would answer a question, he would likely be asked a question relating to his answer. This method taught the student to organize his thinking.


Lastly, the study of Rhetoric taught the student to express his thoughts orally in such a way that his language was elegant and persuasive. These three phases, Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric made up the Trivium.

It is interesting to note that Charlemagne had developed the skills of speaking and rhetoric, but did not learn to write because he did not begin his efforts in due season, as reported by Einhard in his Life of Charlemagne. That is to say, there is an optimum point for learning different skills, and this form of education takes that into account.

Classical education was not concerned with many different “subjects.” The Greeks realized that once a person knew how to read, think and reason, he could learn anything. But he first had to learn how to seek truth and process what he learned. They realized that this took time, and the time spent early in a child’s life would give him the tools for life-long learning. That is our goal as well, and there is much we can learn from the Greeks in our approach to education.