Is this the educational guru both left and right should be listening to?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Has Martin Robinson found the answer to our educational woes? Has he found a way of marrying both traditionalist and progressive approaches to schooling? His new book, Trivium – Preparing Young People for the Future with Lessons From The Past, which is published this month is a monumental attempt to show, in a coherent and persuasive fashion, that the classical model for education can be successfully applied in today’s schools. While the likes of Michael Gove and Toby Young have championed a more traditionalist approach to education, they’ve never brought the left with them. But can Martin Robinson?

The book begins with a dramatic account of Robinson’s own education and his success as a drama teacher. I interviewed Robinson, spending a marvellous afternoon with him in Greenwich Park, videoing him talking about key aspects of his book. Here he talks about how he transformed himself from being a NEET to becoming a teacher and author:

After discussing his own life briefly, he then proceeds to give a persuasive, snappy and intriguing history of education as seen through the classical model. In this video he explains why he wrote Trivium:

At the heart of the book is his exploration of the three key components of education, which are grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. Here he talks about what these terms means:

What I find heartening about Robinson is his breadth and range. He, quite rightly in my view, sees “grammar” as being fundamental to education; as the Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton said in a recent conference speech, children need to learn about “stuff”; they need to know the foundational knowledge and facts. But as Robinson points out this needs to be established with a “dialectical” context; facts need to be challenged, questioned, thought-through, and taught innovatively and creatively. You can’t take a Nick Gibb approach and demand blind rote-learning. Robinson’s explication of the classical model for education is worth watching because I think he is good at explaining what it really involves:

Toby Young and other champions of the liberal arts in education need to read Robinson’s account of the liberal arts in schools because I think he nails the way the teaching of liberal arts needs to be both about “constraints” – learning the ropes, learning the relevant genres – but then building on these to become a free thinking, independent learner.

While some possibly might regard Robinson as something of a cultural conservative, in his obsessive focus upon the “Trivium” (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) I can see the radicalism in what he is saying. His discussion of characters as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Leonard Cohen and Marshal McLuhan is really quite path-breaking; he seems to have the ability to embrace and explore seemingly contradictory and complex thinkers with real clarity, coherence and zest. Watch him here talking about Leonard Cohen and the Trivium:

And here he is talking about ‘The Medium is the Massage’.

I think Trivium is an important book which both educational traditionalists and progressive will find engaging and rewarding. Thoroughly recommended.

You can buy a copy of the book here.
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