In Letters to Children, Lewis defines the watchword for the development of all Christian curricula: “All schools, both here [in England] and in America, ought to teach far fewer subjects and teach them far better.”(1)
Lewis would propose that Christian education raises plumbers who can read Aristotle. The point of a liberal education was to equip students to take their strengths and make the most of them in other areas as needed. Today’s rise in vocational education as evidenced by the growing numbers attending community colleges, whose prime purpose is to train employees for local companies, emphasizes immediate job placement over the ability to learn anything at any time.
This is becoming increasingly a problem as our industrial jobs go overseas and adults are bewildered by what to do next. Employees are trained (called a vocational track in high school) to be a ________ (fill in the blank) rather than a thinker who likes to meet a new challenge.
Dorothy Sayers Offers a Solution
Dorothy Sayers, a friend of Lewis, wrote an essay called “The Lost Tools of Learning” expounding on Lewis’s ideas.
When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us say, Tudor times, and thereafter were held fit to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our own day? To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society. The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects—but does that always mean that they actually know more?(2)In other words, are they taught anything well?
(1) C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, ed. Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie L. Mead (New York: Macmillan, 1985), 83.
(2) Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," Lecture. Oxford, 1947.
Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.