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Another Look at Sayers' "Lost Tools of Learning"

In the essay that follows, Hope E. Rapson, recounts her journey from student to teacher. In retrospect, she sees how she personally benefited from a Classical Education.

I read The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers first as a university student. It made me appreciate that my family had provided me with a classical education in spite of the fact that at twenty-two years of age, I had attended twenty-two different public schools. My grandmother, schooled through the Trivium by missionary parents in India in the late 1880’s, graduated with her Master’s Degree in English Literature and Christian Theology at the age of twenty. A contemporary and admirer of Dorothy Sayers, she strongly advocated and practiced its philosophy of education as a college literature professor, an ordained minister, parent, and grandparent. She truly embraced the goal of education---“to teach men how to learn for themselves.” In my “Poll-Parrot” or grammar years, I was primarily under the care and tutelage of this woman who read her Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew. She supplemented every subject I received in the local “progressive” California school with lessons on the weekends. She took me through the complete Bible relating its events in secular history. She had me instructed in the grammar of music, and delights of classical literature and poetry. She played geography games with me integrated with exposure to different periods of history and customs of language and culture.

In my “Pert” years or dialectic years, my father began to teach me dialectic reasoning, helping me discern, understand, and often refute much of the assumptions taught as truth in the increasing more liberal public schools that I attended. As a Doctor of Jurisprudence, he was fully equipped to argue the use and discount the misuse of evidence and logic. As a new Christian, he was able to analyze and practically apply Scripture to form a new style…Classically Christian…of approaching my education. Theology was a woven piece of every subject, including the explosion of scientific and mathematical study following Sputnik.

I entered my rhetoric years studying Latin, Western Civilization and advanced mathematics while living in the Philippines and traveling through Asia. The world opened up to me as a synthetic whole because grammar and dialect had prepared me to think through my observations, my questions, and how to research for answers. The geography, the events of history, the rules of logic, the ability to speak, write, and creatively communicate enabled me to study classical piano and cultural anthropology at the University of the Philippines while finishing my high school in three years.

My experience of the Quadrivium was then and has continued to be difficult because it has made me different. Training under professors, and with students and other teachers who are products of “modernized education” has placed me in the position of being “old fashioned, too difficult, abnormal, even un-Christian” in my profession of forty-two years. In our culture, where specialization, psychology, naturalism, secularism, and politically correct talk dominate, it has been a struggle to maintain Christian and classical life goals as a professional teacher. I am reminded of something that Saint Anthony the Great said: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’” (The Desert Christian: Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by B. Ward, Macmillan, 1975)

However, in retrospect I realize that my career reveals the synthesis that results from having a classical education and a classical approach. I have taught preschool through adults, every subject, grades in both public, private, Christian, secular, and home schools. What a challenge! What a proof! I was taught how to learn. I need not teach kindergarten or music for thirty years. I can create synthesize and create new curriculum, integrate Bible into every subject area, present grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric in many subjects, and on multiple levels. Why? I found the “lost tools of learning,” and I am committed to teaching students to take hold of these tools so that they can be life-long learners.

Related reading: More on Sayers and Classical Education; Response to Sayers' Lost Tools of Learning


Hope, This account of your education is so interesting! In my mind, I can see Grandma Linsley sitting with you and teaching you in that wonderful way she had of making difficult concepts seem easy.

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