When it comes to the education system, have you ever had the sense that something was… well, a bit off? That is to say, everything seemed to be swimming along fine on the surface, but deep down you had a nagging feeling that something was wrong?
If so, you’re in good company. Author Dorothy Sayers, a contemporary of greats like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, wrestled with these same feelings.
She asked the following five questions about the education system during a 1947 speech given at Oxford:
1. An Inability to Debate Logically:
“Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side?”
2. An Inability to Write Clearly
“Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use?”
3. An Inability to Educate Oneself
“Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected), but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves?”
4. An Inability to Read Challenging Material
“Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read?”
5. An Inability to Mature
“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?”
As the state of political debate, writing proficiency scores, general knowledge, reading activity, and childish behavior will attest, Sayers’ questions address issues we still wrestle with nearly 70 years later.
This fact is unfortunate, particularly since Sayers laid out a plan on how to avoid these educational pitfalls.
Teach children facts instead of continually encouraging self-expression. Give children a historical framework upon which to place world events, architecture, and important figures. Don’t shy from exercising children’s memories. Above all, teach children how to learn on their own without having an adult spoon-feed them every single lesson:
“Is not the great defect of our education today—a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned—that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.”
Is Sayers right? Is the biggest defect of today’s education system the fact that we have failed to teach children to learn and think for themselves?
[Image Credit: U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman Leah Young ]