The Lost Tools of Learning Were Never Lost

In 1947, Dorothy Sayers gave a speech to Oxford University students and faculty titled The Lost Tools of Learning. In this now-popular speech, she asserts that the tools of learning had been lost and that they needed to be restored. What are these “lost tools” which she refers to? They are the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. But, were they ever really lost? Can any form of classical education claim them as classical?

Take a listen. . .

Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric Are Attributes of Mankind

We’re naturally wired with these three attributes, by God’s design. As such, they function together as a part of developing the whole individual; they don’t function separately.

To begin with, let’s build our grammar. For this, we use Webster’s 1828 Dictionary (the only Biblical worldview dictionary we have).


GRAM’MAR, noun [Latin grammatica; Gr. a letter, to write.]

In practice, the art of speaking or writing a language with propriety or correctness, according to established usage.

As a science, grammar treats of the natural connection between ideas and words, and develops the principles which are common to all languages.

-Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

With that, let’s define the Key Word speak:

SPEAK, verb intransitive preterit tense spoke, [spake, nearly, obsolete ] participle passive spoke, spoken.

To utter words or articulate sounds, as human beings; to express thoughts by words.

-Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Of course, the art of speaking involves vocabulary. As a part of developing vocabulary, children build a word bank that helps them to put into practice (over time) the art of speaking and writing.

Now, let’s define logic.


LOG’IC, noun [Latin id; Gr. from reason, to speak.]

The art of thinking and reasoning justly.

Logic is the art of using reason well in our inquiries after truth, and the communication of it to others.

-Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Speech begins with our thoughts. Then it eventually develops into spoken or written words.

We can see this in the intelligence of an infant as he/she develops into babyhood. Before the baby can say ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’, the baby:

  • processes the thoughts in his/her mind about the differences between father and mother,
  • uses Natural Law (God’s creation/design) to make sense of these differences,
  • picks up grammar because he/she is immersed in a linguistic world

For example: As infants, individuals reason that if they are hungry and cry they will get milk. For a nursing baby, mother will feed baby at the breast. Baby reasons from Natural Law (God’s creation design) and from experience that it’s mommy, not daddy, that can nurse.


RHET’ORIC, noun [Gr. from to speak, to flow. Eng. to read. The primary sense is to drive or send. See Read.]

1. The art of speaking with propriety, elegance and force.

2. The power of persuasion or attraction; that which allures or charms. We speak of the rhetoric of the tongue, and the rhetoric of the heart or eyes.

-Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Let’s define the Key Word propriety:

PROPRI’ETY, noun [Latin proprietas, from proprius.] Fitness; suitableness; appropriateness.

Since we’re on the topic of babies, let’s continue with this example. As babies grow and develop, they’re able to communicate at their level.

It all starts early and develops more as it’s nurtured throughout their lives.

The Nature of Logic and Rhetoric is Fit for Usefulness in Life

My husband and I were at an event and an individual who is a proponent for the Christian Classical Education (Trivium model) gave the following as an example of logic and rhetoric:

From the podium she asks: “What do John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common?” Pause. After some silence she states, “Most people say a honey pot is what they have in common. But, John the Baptist didn’t have a honey pot. What John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh share is the same middle name.” Some chuckles moved around the room. The speaker then proclaims that the laughter was rhetoric—feedback that they’re applying logic because they understood the joke.

That’s a cute joke. And, even though they didn’t share a honey pot as a commonality, another answer could be that they both ate honey. That aside, I sat there wondering: 1. How is that useful for equipping Christians how to reason from the Truths of God’s Word (logic); 2. Laughter does give feedback, but that isn’t the same thing as rhetoric by definition. How does the speaker reason that laughter is rhetoric?

Classical Education Cannot Claim Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric

The Lost Tools of Learning Were Never Lost

In conclusion, since the “tools of learning” are natural attributes that God has given individuals, they were never lost. They may go unused or they may be misused/misapplied. But, they certainly have never been lost.

A Biblical Classical Education Uses and Properly Applies the Tools for Learning in These Ways:

The Biblical Classical way of learning shapes the heart and mind of individuals, by building on how they naturally develop.

God has created us in His image with the ability to learn *how to think*. We begin in the early years by teaching the *whole* child. Your child builds a rich vocabulary (“grammar”) by defining words with a Biblical worldview via Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.

They also learn *how* to reason from the truths of God’s Word (His principles) in each subject (“logic”).

And, they practice critical thinking and problem solving through writing and discussions (“rhetoric”).

Therefore, it’s unlike the Trivium where children K-12 put grammar, logic, and rhetoric into practice according to three different age groups.

The Principle Approach® Homeschool

The Principle Approach®(1) is Biblical Classical. Visit this article to learn more about what The Principle Approach® homeschool is.

Education is Discipleship

If you want to learn how to teach the whole child with the Biblical Classical way, we have the Biblical Classical Homeschool Experience™ membership. This is where we disciple and mentor parents in how to take ownership of their own and their child’s education. You’ll meet like-minded parents and enjoy community. It’s specifically designed for the Christian homeschool lifestyle.

Footnote 1: The Noah Plan® [and/or] The Principle Approach® are registered trademarks of the Foundation for American Christian Education.

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