“We cannot go back – or can we?”
In the essay ‘The Lost Tools of Learning’ Dorothy Sayers presents ideas that demand our attention. In my response to the matter I will speak to three points. One being the main problem in modern education, secondly I will address the trivium in definition, and third I will describe the integration of subjects.
There is no perfect school. I believe this to be true. However, can we not do better than we are? I believe so. The starting point is to shine light on the main issue so our reform may be productive and actually fix the problem at hand. Our modern educational system fails severely when it comes to actually teaching the student how to learn and how to think. This is made obvious when we look at our culture. For example; we expect a child to compose an original piece of art without having taught the child the fundamentals of drawing or even types of line. How can a child truly create something if they do not have the tools to create it with? This line of thinking is seen across the curriculum and in every area of our society. We want to produce creative vibrant thinkers and leaders but there is a serious breakdown on how we get there. It is as if modern education has asserted that creativity and the love for learning is either there or it is not. If it is then good for you, but if it is not you are handicapped and the child is lead to believe this is their lot in life. The vast majority of the population is left at the mercy of the advertiser and the politician for the terms of what is right and true and beautiful. I do not believe this to be an exaggeration; this disorders the soul and puts up a smoke screen in front of the truth. The good news is that the truth is the truth and just as darkness cannot keep out the light but instead is penetrated by the light; deception and fabricated structures cannot keep out the truth, it is truth that will cut through like a sword to reveal what is there and what we must do. Ms. Sayers suggests as a remedy, to go back, to go back to the modes of teaching and learning that cultivated competence at the least and, wisdom and virtue as the highest goal. This begins with the trivium.
The trivium is the core and foundation for learning. It is, learning how to learn. With the mastery of the trivium comes the ability to take on the all higher learning. The trivium is the verbal arts seen forth to fruition. The trivium is a Latin term meaning the three roads, those three roads are parts, parts that belong to one larger road that takes you to the seven liberal arts. The names and order for the three parts are Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. Each part coincides with a general state of development and each state of development has dominant faculties that come to the surface to be cultivated and trained. The Grammar part coincides with the state of development that surfaces memory and observation as the primary faculties, most commonly elementary years. During these years we should learn what things are. The Dialectic part coincides with the state that surfaces logical thinking/reasoning and contemplation as its overseeing faculties to be developed, this lines up with the late elementary years through the junior high years. During these years we should come to understand the why and how of things. Finally we come to the Rhetoric, the crown of the trivium. During these years which generally coincide with the high school years, students face the cultivating of many faculties but the most important is the one Sayers describes as “the realization that truism is true”. Andrew Kern describes this faculty as formation or embodying the logos. This is where the: what, why and how take form and are available to be seen and perceived by others because the student becomes a channel for the logos. God’s logos; which brings us to our next point of the integration of subjects.
I believe there are two overseeing principles that Dorothy Sayers writes about having to do with the integration of subjects. Those are the tools of learning and thinking by which the subject is learnt and the fact the all subjects are in fact interrelated by content and can tell us things about the other subject. First, she said “For the tools of learning are the same, in any and every subject…” Therefore the content is almost unnecessary because the goal is the acquisition of the tools of learning. Secondly she said “do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a “subject” remains a “subject,” divided by watertight bulkheads from all other “subjects,” so they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between let us say algebra and detective fiction…” Just like the key to learning how to learn is the trivium the integration of subjects is the key to not being slave to propaganda and advertizing and other ideas that may be dangerous or false. If we cannot think about them in their fullness, and by fullness I mean their definition, their impact and how they relate to all the factors and circumstances involved, then we cannot truly contemplate these things. In addition to these principles of integration, there is another. That principle and truth is, God created everything. Just as an artist creates his craft and you can see similarities throughout his work, learn about him through studying his work and learn about his work by studying the artist; so it is with The Master Artist, whose collection of masterpieces are creation; which includes not only nature, but all thoughts, and ideas and concepts. Creation points to God and God is pointing to his creation as well. Romans 1:20 says “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” There are similarities and deep threads of connection through every fiber of this created world, and more so than we can imagine.
With this new knowledge we can choose to walk the ancient pebble stone paths that teach the tools of learning, that teach us how to think or we can continue down the highway racing down a road that never goes anywhere, but back to where it started. In closing, a quote from Ms. Sayers “For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.”