Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The lost tools of learning: will we ever find them?

I've been doing a lot of off-blog debating these days. It concerns the direction our little homeschooling co-op turned public school option program is going.

We have been happily partaking of the federal trough of taxpayer funded homeschooling resources through a great program called Home Option Program of Education. What began as a few moms sharing teaching efforts in a Christian co-op has expanded to utilize public funds for teachers and facilities and is now looking at creating their own charter high school.

I went to a few charter committee meetings during the summer to share my ideas for curriculum and a classical education, having used such a method, with some degree of success, for the past 18 years of homeschooling. As one of the early members of the program, and with four high school graduates under my belt, I figured they'd want to listen to my ideas.

Boy, was I wrong!

Little did I know the charter committee had already decided their course of action would have no part in medieval ideas of classical education, for they had already charted their course for "collaborative learning" and "critical thinking."

There's nothing like having to do a little research in educational theories and methods to fully convince one of the merits of homeschooling. I just did another re-read of Dorothy Sayer's essay, The Lost Tools of Learning. I'd forgotten just how delightfully refreshing it is to read her essay, first presented at Oxford in 1947.

I was struck by just how appropos this excerpt is today. Perhaps even more so now than it was in 1947:

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education--lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

I would love to say that after 18+ years of homeschooling, I've gotten it right and I am doing a great job of introducing my kids to the lost tools of learning, but the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I just hope my kids end up being smarter than me. Some of them already are!

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