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The Lost Tools of Learning

Why would we make Facebook responsible for managing news sources, censoring posts, or for that matter defining reality? Is it not an individual responsibility to choose credible sources, identify deepfakes and discern information?

"We often succeed in teaching our pupils subjects,

we fail lamentably on the whole teaching them how to think...I am concerned only

with the proper training of the mind, to encounter and deal with the formidable mass of

undigested problems presented to it by the modern world.

" - Dorothy Sayers

The responsibility falls not to social media companies, it falls to the individual to define, discern and determine the truth. The pandemic virus of misinformation does not begin with social media, it begins in our failure as educators.

Dorothy Sayers, in her article, "The Loss Tools of Learning" writes, "..if we are to produce a society of educated people fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true objective." Sayers reminds us of the Trivium: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, the training received by the ancients and we would be wise to reinstate.

Consider just a couple of the questions Sayers puts forth over 70 years ago:

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisements and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?

Or do you sometime have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?

To read the questions alone is frightening when we continue to ask these same questions today. Now, even more so, what is stressed is not learning, but the necessity for self expression. Self expression, when not governed by truth, is insanity. Social media is a vomit bowl of self expression which demands no truth.

The ancients first learned a language, the structure of the language, how it was put together, and how it worked. Next, the education would focus on the use of the language, how to define terms and make accurate statements. This would also include how to construct an argument and detect fallacies. Logic was embraced. Thirdly, the student would learn to express themselves persuasively and with elegance. All of this completed by the time the student was 16.

Why is everyone so outraged over Russian persuasion or liberal or conservative hyperbole? To quote Sayers, "They are prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects."

As a student would progress into more particulars, all subjects would be seen not as separate disciplines, but sub-subjects of logic.

We as life long students and learners hold the responsibility of managing and measuring what is presented to us. We should not be regulating Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat, we should be self regulating our use or decision not to use these platforms based on what the platforms produce in our lives.

If you need Facebook to police your news, you have much work to do.

"They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves, and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain," wrote Sayers.

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