In her classic speech on the “Lost Tools of Learning” Dorothy Sayers prophetically remarks, “Is not the great defect of our education today…that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.”
Sayers continues, “It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play “The Harmonious Blacksmith” upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle “The Last Rose of Summer.”
It’s important to keep in mind these quote were said over fifty years ago in Britain where education is far away more difficult than in the United States. In the here and now, us Americans have been further mired into the abyss of defective education. The solution to the problem is not easy. As Christians how are we to educate children?
While understanding that is is highly doubtful the educational model she proposes will be instituted, Sayers however continues to advocate a resurrection of the old medieval model.
Within this model of education there are two separate parts: the Trivium and the Quadrivium.
The Trivium was divided into three parts: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. As Sayers points out, these “subjects” are not really “subjects” in the way we usually think. In fact, these “subjects” are “only methods of dealing with subjects.” Sayers succinctly explains the purpose behind the Trivium as well as each portion therein saying,
“The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to “subjects” at all.
“First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself–what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked.”
Within the dialectic the student, “learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument. Dialectic, that is to say, embraced Logic and Disputation.”
“Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language– how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.”
It might be asked, why is this type of education so important for Christians?
Sayers offers a cogent remark for what it means if we fail to properly educate children,
“For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects.”
Indeed, in order to properly prepare children for the battle in this world of combating falsehood a proper education is a necessity. Because if Christians are not the one’s leading the way, then who is?