Dorothy Sayers on Education

A fascinating essay on education: Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”.

“Modern education concentrates on teaching subjects, leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one’s conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along; mediaveal education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.” The lost tools…

“The inflected languages interpret the uninflected, whereas the uninflected are of little us in interpreting the inflected.” This is why learning Greek was so hard for me!

“The modern tendency is to try and force rational explanations on a child’s mind at too early an age. intelligent questions, spontaneously asked, should, of course, receive an immediate and rational answer; but it is a great mistake to suppose that a child cannot readily enjoy and remember things that are beyond its power to analyze”. Rationality can be an idol. A good servant…
“Theology is the Mistress-science, without which the whole educations structure will necessarily lack its final synthesis”. The Queen of the sciences – go forth and integrate!

“For the sole 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”. Learning skills, not learning styles etc.

We cannot go back in time

Often in the discussion of Christian ethics in the public sphere you hear the catch-cry, “we can’t go back to X“, where X is the Reformation, the first century, the 19th century and so on.

People normally say this for two reasons, both of them wrong:

Firstly, they have created an incorrect association between a biblical ethic and a certain era, that doesn’t logically hold. For example, when teaching Biblical roles of husbands and wives, it is common to hear people cry out: “we cannot go back to the 1950’s”. But actually Biblical teaching on roles has as much to critique of the 1950’s white picket fence marriage as it does the modern crash-and-burn egalitarian marriage. A pox on both your houses.

Secondly, the claim “we can’t go back” simply might be masking the fact that biblical ethics is challenging us to a repentance we are unwilling to consider today. Dorothy Sayers has an excellent discussion of this in her “Lost Tools of Learning” education essay:

“What, then, are we to do? We cannot go back to the Middle Ages. That is a cry to which we have become accustomed. We cannot go back – or can we? Distinguo. I should like every term in that proposition defined. Does ‘Go back’ mean a retrogression in time, or the revision of an error? The first is clearly impossible per se; the second is a thing which wise men do every day. ‘Cannot’ – does this mean that our behaviour is determined by some irreversible cosmic mechanism, or merely that such an action would be very difficult in view of the opposition it would provoke?”

In short, Biblical repentance is not physics!