I have become increasingly interested in classical education, but was unaware that one of the Inklings gave a lecture which has been very influential in that “movement:” Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning.
The syllabus was divided into two parts: the Trivium and Quadrivium. The second part—the Quadrivium—consisted of “subjects,” and need not for the moment concern us. The interesting thing for us is the composition of the Trivium, which preceded the Quadrivium and was the preliminary discipline for it. It consisted of three parts: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order … [T]he first thing we notice is that two … of these “subjects” are not what we should call “subjects” at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects.
One snippet toward the end particularly grabbed me at several levels:
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 behavior is determined irreversibly, or merely that such an action would be very difficult in view of the opposition it would provoke? Obviously the twentieth century is not and cannot be the fourteenth; but if “the Middle Ages” is, in this context, simply a picturesque phrase denoting a particular educational theory, there seems to be no a priori reason why we should not “go back” to it—with modifications ….
This grabbed me, first, because it points out the fallacy in the modern faux truism that “you can’t turn back the clock.” Second, it shows precisely why the truism isn’t true. And third, it shows that using the very tools of learning that she says we need to recover. Thus does it tacitly explain what she early on alluded to as the “extraordinary inability of the average debater [today – i.e., 70 year ago] to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side.”
I cannot recommend this lecture too highly. I paid 99¢ for a Kindle edition, but it’s available for free other places, like this, which just happened to be my top Google hit.
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The Benedict Option ultimately has to be a matter of love. It can’t be a strategy for self-improvement or for saving the church or the world.
(Pastor Greg Thompson by Rod Dreher in the closing refrains of The Benedict Option)