Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dorothy Sayers and TLTOL (part eight)

More Sayers ideas from her essay. This is a long excerpt, but it sums up the trivium.
Let us now look at the mediaeval scheme of education--the syllabus of the Schools. It does not matter, for the moment, whether it was devised for small children or for older students, or how long people were supposed to take over it. What matters is the light it throws upon what the men of the Middle Ages supposed to be the object and the right order of the educative process.

The syllabus was divided into two parts: the Trivium and Quadrivium. The second part--the Quadrivium--consisted of "subjects," and need not for the moment concern us. The interesting thing for us is the composition of the Trivium, which preceded the Quadrivium and was the preliminary discipline for it. It consisted of three parts: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order.
Now the first thing we notice is that two at any rate of these "subjects" are not what we should call "subjects" at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects. Grammar, indeed, is a "subject" in the sense that it does mean definitely learning a language--at that period it meant learning Latin. But language itself is simply the medium in which thought is expressed. The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to "subjects" at all. First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself--what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument. Dialectic, that is to say, embraced Logic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language-- how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.
At the end of his course, he was required to compose a thesis upon some theme set by his masters or chosen by himself, and afterwards to defend his thesis against the criticism of the faculty. By this time, he would have learned--or woe betide him-- not merely to write an essay on paper, but to speak audibly and intelligibly from a platform, and to use his wits quickly when heckled. There would also be questions, cogent and shrewd, from those who had already run the gauntlet of debate.

I love the idea of actually learning the basics of communication before being asked to communicate. It seems like we have a plethora of talk these days and a corresponding dearth of coherent usage of the English language. Of course, texting and tweeting are obvious examples of poor grammar and spelling. Yet even on news sites, one sees too many comments posted on newspaper articles by people who think profanity-laced, misspelled attacks are worth anyone's time. I don't think much of someone's opinion if they can't spell correctly, for that is an indication that he or she either received a poor education or is too arrogant or lazy to use a spell-checker before posting. I plan to teach my children to spell well and teach them as much information as practicable. Although Sayers doesn't seem concerned with pride, I also hope I succeed in teaching my children that they never know enough to be conceited about and satisfied with what they have learned; humility is such an important, though under-appreciated, virtue.

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