Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Saturday, October 31, 2009

a set of complicated jigs

A tradition, however firmly rooted, if it is never watered, though it dies hard, yet in the end it dies. And today a great number — perhaps the majority — of the men and women who handle our affairs, write our books and our newspapers, carry out research, present our plays and our films, speak from our platforms and pulpits —yes, and who educate our young people, have never, even in a lingering traditional memory, undergone the scholastic discipline. Less and less do the children who come to be educated bring any of that tradition with them. We have lost the tools of learning — the axe and the wedge, the hammer and the saw, the chisel and the plane — that were so adaptable to all tasks. Instead of them, we have merely a set of complicated jigs, each of which will do but one task and no more, and in using which eye and hand receive no training, so that no man ever sees the work as a whole or looks to the end of the work. What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault of the teachers — they work only too hard already. The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true 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.
— Dorothy L. Sayers, from "The Lost Tools of Learning" (1947). For some reason Sayers's argument came to mind the other day as I was reading this.

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