Summer is a great time to read, so I thought I would recommend a few wonderful reads for those lazy days at the beach, lake or mountains.  These works provide fine insight into the philosophy and methodology that we seek to employ at Cary Christian School to provide an excellent classical education founded upon a biblical worldview.  I hope to provide you with a brief overview of each work as well as links to where they can be found.

At any given moment, on any given college or university campus anywhere in the world, one can find a symposium, lecture or conference put on by any number of think tanks, departments or societies.  Typically, the lectures presented at these gatherings make as much impact in the world as this morning’s cereal.  But on an evening in 1947, the British crime novelist, essayist, poet and playwright Dorothy Sayers delivered a speech at Oxford University that has since generated a small revolution.

Sayers’ essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” is at once a lament and a wondering aloud.  She laments the low and continuing degeneration of the modern educational enterprise while wondering to her listeners if, perhaps, the educational methodology that produced the modern Western world might be recovered.

In her speech, Sayers’ main thesis was that modern education had wandered astray from a goal of training students in the skills and arts of thinking and learning.  Instead, the goal had become procurement of data, facts and subject-specific content.  The unfortunate result of this shift in emphasis is that students, in seeking only to learn the subject, not only do not learn the subject, they fail to learn how to learn anything.  Additionally, they become less apt and able to make connections of information, how to discern good reasoning from bad, and how to articulately express their thoughts in a cogent way.  In short, we divest them of the ability to think and consequently, they become victims of the shoddy, lazy, or worse, nefarious thinking of the age.

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. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spellbinder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

Sayers modestly proposes an antidote to the malaise.  What if we returned to a time-tested methodology that produced, among other things: Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, Sir Isaac Newton, Calculus, modern science, Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays, Luther’s 95 theses,  J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Notre Dame Cathedral? Sayers proposes a recovery of the lost tools of learning.

The beauty of what has since come to be known as classical methodology is its employment of the Trivium (meaning “three-way path”).  Sayers argues that the Trivium accurately corresponds both to the progressive stages of how children learn as well as the process by which any subject is thoroughly known and understood (In a future article I will explain the Trivium further as well as how it is employed at CCS).  Properly employed, a student who is the recipient of this kind of education will not know everything, but they will be able to learn and think about anything.  “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.”

I highly recommend that you read Sayers article (available as a free ebook here) to further understand how your students are receiving these lost tools of learning.