In days gone by, not very long ago, the adhan, a letter, or human contact were the only interruptions we had to our day. Then came the telephone; but for most people this was not an intrusion. Then, mobile phones appeared, followed by the smartphone. In just a few years the number of notifications and interruptions increased astronomically. No longer is it just a phone call. It is text messages, group chats, Twitter and Facebook. Add to this emails, appointments via a calendar, breaking news and other unimportant information coming in all day long. There is never any silence. Never any solitude. Never any contemplation.
I came across Dorothy Sayers’ article on the Lost Tools of Learning around twenty years ago. Written in 1947, it still as pertinent today as it was then. In her own words:
“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?”
And this was before the invasion of social media. The need for critical thinking skills in ever more important today. I have reproduced here speech her in full for all to read and ponder.
Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) briefly entered on a teaching career after graduating from Oxford. She published a long and popular series of detective novels, translated the “Divine Comedy,” wrote a series of radio plays, and a defense of Christian belief. During World War II, she lived in Oxford, and was a member of the group that included C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield. By nature and preference, she was a scholar and an expert on the Middle Ages. In this essay, Miss Sayers suggests that we presently teach our children everything but how to learn. She proposes that we adopt a suitably modified version of the medieval scholastic curriculum for methodological reasons. “The Lost Tools of Learning” was first presented by Miss Sayers at Oxford in 1947.