January 06, 2006

Trivial and liberal

For Christmas I decided to treat myself to some of the items that had been languishing on my Amazon wish list, items whose purchase I couldn't much justify because they were just for me, or just for fun, or just nice extras rather than necessities. Pitiful, isn't it? Things like the Sam Cooke Portrait of a Legend cd and the Swingin' for Schuur cd, with the very swingin' Diane Schuur and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson -- because, really, I have a lot of Sam Cooke and Diane Schuur on vinyl (but it's so nice now to be able to play them on the cd player in the kitchen or driving around) -- as well as my latest read (admittedly not the best choice to start digging into while getting ready to leave on a long trip), The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric: Understanding the Nature and Function of Language, by Sister Miriam Joseph. I've wanted this one for a few years, even before we started home schooling, ever since seeing it mentioned in A Common Reader catalogue. But it always seemed like a nice extra as long as the kids are as young as they are.

It wasn't until getting my hot little hands on it earlier this week, when I got to read it backwards, starting with Sister Miriam's biography, that I learned the book is actually her version of a textbook for the college freshman course she began teaching in 1935: "Since no existing textbook was adequate for the course Sister wrote her own." So what it is is actually a fairly brief (265 pages, not including author bio, notes, or index) overview of the nuts and bolts of the trivium, written simply enough for first-year college students (well, from the thirties, which says more about the state of most present-day high school education than anything else), and so far quite agreeable and tolerable to non-Catholics. The chapters, in order, include The Liberal Arts; The Nature and Function of Language; General Grammar; Terms and Their Grammatical Equivalents: Definition and Division; Propositions and Their Grammatical Expression; Relations of Simple Propositions; The Simple Syllogism; Relations of Hypothetical and Disjunctive Propositions; Fallacies; A Brief Summary of Induction; and Composition and Reading. Nifty. A good overview for the homeschooling parent, especially for those of us who don't like surprises down the road, or aren't keen on spending time reinventing the wheel.

I'm up to page 22, and my favorite part so far, beyond the first sentence where Sister Miriam explained, "The liberal arts denote the seven branches of knowledge that initiate the young into a life of learning", is learning the motto of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland: Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque. In other words, "I make free men of children by means of books and balances [laboratory experiments]." Good stuff, as one of my old college history professors used to say. Am wondering if I can get Tom to build a new house so he can carve this over the new massive wooden doorway....

No comments: