The Lost Tools of Learning and Vocational Education

If you ever apply to teach at a private school that uses the classical model of education, you will be asked to read Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” and write a response to it. Recently I took the time to re-read “The Lost Tools of Learning” and write down some reflections. 

Understanding of the Content
Dorothy Sayer’s “Lost Tools of Learning” serves as a metaphor to compare the state of modern education to the classical model of education, commonly called the Trivium. Sayer’s presents its three stages; Grammar, Dialectic (sometimes called Logic) and Rhetoric. The grammar stage focuses on memorization where the basics building blocks are given to the student, with language, namely Latin at its center. The Dialectic stage focuses on reason where such building blocks are considered and used in argumentation and debate, with Formal Logic at its center. The Rhetoric stage focuses on the students freedom of expression, in speaking and writing. This is best seen in the art of oration and presentation of a thesis and defense. It is here that Sayer’s does not provide a center to its stage, but allows for freedom depending on the student’s future aspirations.

Reflection of the Content
To realize that the British public education system was struggling in the 1940’s with actually being able to educate their citizens well and that there were those who were picking up on it who were outside of the education community is both a relief and a concern.  A relief in that you hear a fellow laborer voicing the same concerns you feel in your heart and a concern in that it was almost 70 years ago that this was voiced and there has been no adequate answer. My faith in the Lord, this speech, the gullibility of the American public in a vote for change, and a memory of a destroyed, hopeless, and uneducated Germany after WWI has awakened a passion in me to be a part of the education of my fellow Christians. May we all learn to think critically and answer logically so we can answer intelligently for the hope that is in us and dispel the myth of the hope that is thought to be found in “government.”

A Practical Application
Sayer’s mentions the Quadrivium at the beginning of her and near the end of addressing the Rhetoric stage in the Trivium. Sayer’s writes, “What this amounts to is that the ordinary pupil, whose formal education ends at 16, will take the Trivium only; whereas scholars will take both the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Is the Trivium, then, a sufficient education for life? Properly taught, I believe that it should be.” I think Sayer’s brings a question that classical educators should consider or maybe re-consider when dealing with a student’s future. Does the student plan to enter the world at the age of 18 or pursue higher education? Often teachers (and parents) assume their students will (and must) go on to college to pursue their future aspirations and vocation. Sayer’s reminds her readers that not every student will go one to pursue higher education. In a country where college education has increased tremendously over the past ten years, students need to seriously consider if their future aspirations and vocation require higher education or would specialize and vocational education meet their needs. Teachers in classical education, who often lean towards higher education should encourage students that career and technological education is as admirable as higher education when it comes to choosing one’s vocation. 
Imagine a classically trained mind molded to be used as an electrician or plumber, maybe even a heavy machine operator that will likely be compensated greater than yourself, a classical educator.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s