England has produced a number of outstanding detective story writers. Agatha Christie comes to mind with her character Hercule Poirot. Another is Dorothy L. Sayers, with her diffident, yet steely-minded toff, Lord Peter Wimsey.
There were also other sides to Dorothy. She was a moderate feminist, and one of the first women to graduate from Oxford University. She was a reputable medieval scholar.
In 1947 she delivered a talk at Oxford University called ‘The Lost Tools of Learning’, in which she suggested that western education has lost its way, by trying to cram in facts, rather than first developing skills. She pointed to the medieval trivium as a good way of giving students the ‘tools of learning’, namely logic (to think clearly), grammar (to write and speak clearly), and rhetoric (to mount a persuasive argument).
We see plenty of environmental rhetoric on this blog site, but is it all logical? Is there too much quoting of ‘facts’ (some might say ‘factoids’), and not enough sound argument? Is the use of scientific jargon and acronyms intended to obfuscate or impress, rather than to seek the truth? Should not all ‘models’ be accompanied by a clearly written statement of their assumptions?
In my view Dorothy’s argument was valid in 1947, and is even more valid now. She also wrote it up as an essay, which is available at several websites. Search on (sayers tools trivium). Have a read – it’s only a few pages.
Dr. David Naugle (search on naugle trivium sayers) has reviewed her essay, and the benefits of the trivium have been discussed elsewhere, for example in the book ‘Chaucer and the Trivium:The Mindsong of the Canterbury Tales’, by J. Stephen Russell.
I suggest that the humanities, and the medieval trivium, have a great deal to offer in current political and environmental debate. It might help people to cope with the torrent of ‘news’, advertising, and ‘spin doctoring’. Any comments?
Green and Medieval Davey Gam Esq.
Perth, Western Australia