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

Francis Gilbert's picture
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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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FA1WZ2SmWOs

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqNzuLKzb2s

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkrzjh6ZtSY

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A21wy-7xVnQ

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFKibdAAmjw

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’.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdKpc4vSQe4

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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