The Trivium

A Not Trivial Curriculum

The word trivium simply means three courses. The trivium was the name applied to the three verbal arts in the classical liberal arts curriculum: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The four arts of number, space, and time were called the quadrivium: mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy. The ancient Greeks believed that these studies helped a young man learn to be a better citizen of a democracy, as well as a more pleasant companion. The ancient Romans they thought that the trivium and quadrivium should be reserved for free men (liberi), as opposed to slaves (servi). That’s why the Romans called these studies the liberal arts. Slaves were taught only the servile arts, to make them better servants. Ordinary people were taught the mechanical arts, such as cooking, blacksmithing, weaving, and tailoring, to make them more productive as workers.

The liberal arts provide the skills that you need if you want to run a society of any size. Thus, the liberal arts were traditionally reserved for the people who were intended to be part of or at least to serve the ruling class. The quadrivium gives them the skills they need for banking and real estate and for organizing public festivals. The trivium, in contrast, gives them the skills they need for finding the truth and for negotiating among themselves. That’s why the trivium has been traditionally reserved for the children who are expected to grow up to be somebody. It has traditionally been withheld from people whose participation in political decision-making is unwanted.

If you want to have a real democracy, then you will teach the trivium to everyone. Young people do need to be taught the mechanical arts so that they can become productive workers. Yet to become free people, as opposed to slaves, they need to learn the liberal arts. The purpose of this Web site is to teach the trivium to anyone who can read English and has an Internet connection.

Why study grammar?

The three courses of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) have to be taught in the right order. Grammar is the study of how words are altered and combined to form meaningful sentences in a particular language. You must understand some basic principles of grammar before you can begin to study logic. Logic is the study of arguments. It’s the discipline that teaches you how to draw conclusions from evidence. You need to master the basic principles of logic before you can go on to study rhetoric, which is the art of persuasive speech.

Why study the grammar of Standard English?

In Not Trivial and on this Web site, I provide an introduction to the grammar of Standard English, which has become the international language of science, aviation, etc. If you cannot read, write, and speak Standard English, you will be at a serious disadvantage in many areas of life. Of course, I actually like nonstandard English. I grew up reading the King James Version of the Bible. I enjoy the writings of Shakespeare and Robert Burns. Also, many of my friends and relatives speak fascinating and often lyrical nonstandard dialects of English. Yet even they use meticulous Standard English in formal writing, such as a scientific report. Standard English is the dialect that allows you to reach a worldwide audience.

In Not Trivial and on this Web site, I explain the lessons that I use for turning bad writers into good writers. First, I show you how to use a dictionary. Then I review the eight parts of speech, teach you how to diagram sentences, and then give you pointers on word order.


In Not Trivial and on this Web site, I explain how to use grammar lessons to begin the study of logic. I then explain the basic concepts of deductive and inductive reasoning. I also introduce the idea of logical fallacy, which means an argument that sounds convincing but is potentially misleading. I then explain how hard it is to prove cause and effect. I also explain some concepts of modal logic, which deal with questions about what could be or might be or perhaps should be, as opposed to what is.


In Not Trivial and on this Web site, I explain the basic approaches to persuasion. I explain  classical principles that are more than two thousand years old as well as the modern techniques that were pioneered in the 20th century. The purpose of studying rhetoric is twofold. One purpose is to help you learn to express yourself more persuasively. The other purpose is to help you immunize yourself against propaganda.