Trivium II

I’ve been meaning to read Martin Robinson’s Trivium book for two years now, but there’s always been work to be done, dishes to be washed, parenting to be useless at. I’ve been meaning to read it, but the email that gets it washed and brought to me was only sent last week, and the book only arrived a few days ago (it is exquisite: I’ve been told this by people I respect, but it is better even than their positive reviews).


I’ve regretted my failure here as Martin is the kind of gentleman, scholar and verbal acrobat who would appreciate the 1970s cartoon reference in this sentence equally as much as he would enjoy the appropriateness of the following semi colon; you only have to spend minutes in his presence to realize you are in the presence of a ceaselessly inquisitive man of great pedigree in London education who has command of his thoughts. His publishers recently asked me to provide some back cover copy for his curated text, Trivium II, and I could easily hack out a pleasingly alliterative paragraph, but this would do the work and my reactions to it little justice. It is worth more than that. But it is difficult to review the sequel without having seen the first movie.


On that first movie: there have been other contenders for the title of best-written education book published in the last five, six, seven, eight years: Ian Gilbert’s ‘Why Do I Need a Teacher …’, Tait Coles’ ‘Punk Learning’, David Didau’s ‘What if Everything …’ All damn, damn good with their own special strengths, but this elevates the education book to art form. The chief structural device in it is so playful that (at times) it reads like a piece of magic realist fiction. And the content has redefined and clarified lesson planning to the extent that I have a new understanding of why I’ve always opted, organically, for a certain preferred method; it has caused me to think about the function of education in more than my usual cursory, shallow manner; it has provided a key towards solving the petty, angered disputation between polarized, warring elements of the education community and has allowed me to see the point of tradition. The last one of these is no small win on the part of any book: I have always detested the word, regarding it as a flimsy veil for knives inserted into the fronts of uncomprehending innocents. At the age of 51, I may have learnt enough from this book to begin a dawning of the comprehension of the depths of the profundity of my ignorance. The ‘tradition’ of education, as espoused in this book (as opposed to the psychedelically wild way it is often argued for by eternal reruns of the Muppet Show) is a circuiting rabbit hole of wonder in which one might become lost for a good while.


The follow up, Trivium II, is a series of attempts to bring this tradition to bear in current realities. From what I read about the work of Highbury Grove School, here there is an open-hearted and ambitious attempt to contextualise historical ‘high’ thought about how to educate in the ‘modern’ needs of a multi cultural London school. Aside from the introduction, this is the standout chapter as it means to change things for the better for the children. It understands that the ability to investigate ideas and to articulate (and even perform) responses to those ideas is a vital drive in less well-off communities, and it wonders aloud how future generations of our kids are ever to challenge the primacy of entitled buffoons if they do not have the first clue about the linguistic and cultural codes that the entitled use to recognise each other? This school and the chapter they have offered up are trying really bloody hard to do the right things for the right reasons.


It is a book of strange bedfellows, though: some of whom are less open to easy penetration than others. But the varied cast here is a symptom of how much of a wind Martin’s first book caught. What is interesting is that the state sector’s contributions are pealing with enthusiasm about taking the ideas written about in the first book and running with them, using the trivium to help kids transcend their circumstances while the independent sector’s responses are in the form of extended essays. Carl Hendrick’s essay on Bakhtin is a mazy minor key dribble around the idea of dialogism: argumentation without the need for any conclusive assertions of victory. Eton College’s Mike Grenier sculpts an enjoyable and playfully well-written rejection of industrialised versions of education that makes the welcome and overdue proposition that we all just slow down a little.


I retain the odd reservation regarding the assumptions about what constitutes the grammar of a subject. How are “authority, discipline [and] hierarchy” parts of the grammar of any subject? The line about ‘the best that has been thought, said and done’ is thrown around rather too unquestioningly (any teacher who does not include questions as to who might have decided this will be leaving the political aspect of being a philosopher kid hanging). And I still have questions about what might be termed the ‘Oxbridge-isation’ of education in which the cultural memes of the ruling class sit unchallenged as qualitatively better than those of the ruder orders. Ultimately though, these reservations are more a reflection of my own preference for the firebomb over the hopelessly rigged ballot box than they are of the quality of thought here. Part of the subversion of Martin’s work is its pragmatism and the friends it has made in all manner of places: no one clever, whatever their ideological stripe, is offended by it! As such, it is a unifying (and dialogic) force around which people who might otherwise be shouting at each other finally see some common ground.


The difficult second album with supplemental musicians has been negotiated. Next time, though, I’d like the lead singer a little higher in the mix.

Added Mon, 13 Jun 2016 21:12

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