I've updated this article, originally published in 2002:
Living Literature: High School
The Lost Tools of Learning
Reviewed by Maureen Wittmann
In 1947 at Oxford University Dorothy Sayers, an English writer and scholar, stepped up to the lectern and presented her speech, The Lost Tools of Learning. Then in 1977 her speech was published in National Review magazine. Since that time, The Lost Tools of Learning has been republished countless times.
The “lost tools” that Miss Sayers spoke of in her speech were the tools of a classical education. A classical education is based on the Trivium, which is made up of three stages.
The Grammar Stage (ages eight to eleven) builds a foundation by memorizing facts. The Dialectic, sometimes referred to as the Logic Stage (ages twelve to fourteen) develops analytical skills in students. Finally, the Rhetoric Stage (ages fourteen to sixteen) pulls the first two stages together and teaches students the art of articulation
The Trivium is not a modern approach to education, it was developed in the Middle Ages and widely used for centuries. One might even say that the Trivium is biblically supported. In Proverbs 2:6 we read: “For the Lord gives wisdom: From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom sound much like grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. The Trivium recognizes basic human development. It recognizes how God formed our intellect.
Children taught using the classical model have received the lost tools that Miss Sayers speaks of so eloquently in her speech. When students reach high school they have mastered the tools of memorizing facts and of analyzing those facts. Now they are ready to engage in the art of expression and in the science of communication. As Miss Sayers states, “The doors of the storehouse of knowledge should now be thrown open for them to browse about as they will. The things once learned by rote will be seen in new contexts.”
It is during the Rhetoric Stage that teens begin to develop their world view. Self-expression is at its peak. This is not the time to let one’s child go, but to continue helping him flower, guiding him gently. Challenge his thinking skills during this stage and make him defend his intellectual and religious positions.
The Lost Tools of Learning also tells us that “subjects” cannot be divorced from one another. It is especially during the Rhetoric Stage that we as parents and teachers should point out that all subjects are related to one another in some way.
Let us discuss briefly how a parent may apply the lost tools with a teen in the Rhetoric Stage.
High school is the perfect time to teach apologetics. Teach him to use his Bible facts and apply them to reasoned debate. Study the Early Church Fathers, how their leadership formed the way we worship today, and how the books of the Bible were determined.
In A Vote of Thanks to Cyrus, Dorothy Sayers relates that as a child she discovered the Cyrus mentioned in her Bible was the very same Cyrus found in her history text. Teens can recognize that Bible stories are not simply tales to entertain, but in fact history. Talk about Jesus Christ as a historical figure and the impact that Christianity has had in shaping world events.
Also go beyond your textbook and explore primary documents: autobiographies, documents, letters, etc. Give the high school student an opportunity to see how the turns of history occured through first-hand accounts.
Look for the historical and biblical perspectives in studying science. Study the ethical ramifications in scientific research. Relevant topics for today may include stem cell research, fetal tissue transplants, and cloning.
The more advanced math disciplines, such as algebra, geometry, and calculus, can be introduced. Study discoveries in historical perspective by reading biographies of mathematicians. Math studies can be tied into science.
This is the time for students to determine their own style. They can use Elements of Style or Chicago Manual of Style as references in writing. They should learn to prune their arguments and make their point without overdoing it.
Reading can move from narrative stories to challenging debates, critiques, and primary documents.
Latin can now be studied more deeply or dropped to make time for the modern languages.
Read The Lost Tools of Learning. Study more deeply the Trivium and learn about the Quadrivium.
Search out other writings of Dorothy Sayers. She wrote a series of popular detective novels as well as many scholarly pieces.
Go to an online concordance and enter these three words: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Look up the Scriptures that the concordance returns. How do you think that these words correspond to grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric?
Learning rests upon truth. Ask yourself: “What is truth?” Does the classical model of education lend itself to the discovery of God’s truth?
Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education (Ignatius Press) by Laura Berquist
A Catholic Homeschool Treasury: Developing Children’s Love for Learning (out of print) by Rachel Mackson and Maureen Wittmann, eds. Contains an excellent essay that explains Dorothy Sayers’ speech and classical education, written by Rachel Mackson.
The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (W.W. Norton & Company) by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer
Heart and Mind magazine has a regular column on classical education written by Laura Berquist.
Mail Order Companies:
Carries The Lost Tools of Learning plus most of the resources recommended in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.
Latin and classical materials.
Website contains much more than their catalog. Lots of articles and resources for Christian classical education.
Home Study Schools
Online Catholic academy – liberal arts education based on the classic great books of Western civilization.
Classical education – Ignation method.
Mother of Divine Grace
Catholic classical home study founded by Laura Berquist.
Regina Coeli Academy
An online college preparatory program using a Catholic classical curriculum.
Catholic Classical Education
Classical Christian Homeschooling