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The modern resurgence of classical education can be attributed to an essay written by Dorothy Sayers. Dorothy Sayers was an English writer who graduated from Oxford. In 1947 while at Oxford, Sayers presented an essay entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In the early 90's her essay captured the attention of educators and has become one of the most widely read essays on classical education. Although Sayers was not an educator herself, she does address the problems of modern education in terms that speak to the heart and mind of those who have passed through the system and found their education inadequate. She also gives parents a type of syllabus to follow. Her essay has proven to be a wonderful starting point for those seeking a better way to teach and be taught.
The classical approach to education is based upon the medieval scheme of education. The medieval syllabus consists of seven disciplines of academic study: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music. This approach teaches students to think well in all of areas knowledge and to come to the realization that all areas of knowledge are interconnected. Although the aim of the medieval scholars was not to understand God, these "subjects," or pieces of knowledge, teach some of the communicable attributes of God in a way that His finite image-bearers can, whether intentionally or unintentionally, reflect His character.
The scope of these disciplines may seem far too grand for the young students to approach; yet when approached incrementally, moving from parts to whole, they are not. Classical pedagogy begins with the end in mind and maps out the coursework moving downward to the starting point - there students begin to learn. At this point, with the rudiments of each subject being taught incrementally, the students carefully move from part to whole until they reach the level of required mastery, or the “end.”
For example, classical education does not simply teach students to read; instead, literacy begins by teaching the students that a word is made up of phonograms, that when combined carry meaning in written and spoken language. The students first learn the foundational phonograms as well as corresponding spelling rules. Once they are able to identify these phonograms in writing and are shown how to decode, they naturally begin to read. Because the average child has a vocabulary of thousands of words, using this technique allows the teacher to introduce a limited number of spelling words containing vital spelling patterns and spelling rules, resulting in a student who can read and write well beyond the words taught to him. Each student learns that language is a code and that he can master the steps to decode and encode his language. These foundational tools of language enable students to not only decipher the printed word, but to spell. This approach makes it possible for the students to not only remember what they have learned, but just as important, they know how to learn independently and are equipped to read and write for a lifetime. With this knowledge they are able to move from the simple to the complex without difficulty, transferring these intellectual skills to other subjects that must be mastered.