About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

June 3, 2014

LIBERAL THIS, LIBERAL THAT

When commenting on the Senate's confirmation of Theodore Mitchell as Under Secretary, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said: 
“He will lead us through this important time in higher education as we continue to work toward the President’s goal to produce the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world by 2020.” 
So, education is for producing a "competitive workforce?" 

How sad.

Though others might, I'm sure neither President Obama nor Secretary Duncan believe that education is only for getting a job. That attitude could herald another "Great Leap Forward" or a surge in enrollment in classes on diesel mechanics at community colleges! 

Many current college grads don't find jobs, anyway.

I (now an old fossil) would start again by heading for a modern version of a medieval university to study the trivium: logic, rhetoric, and grammar (how to think, speak, and write) then the Quadrivium outlined by Plato in The Republic: arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy, the four "sciences" comprising the liberal arts. 

That "Liberal" has nothing to do
 "with those designer labels 'liberal' and 'conservative' that some so lovingly stitch on to every idea they pull off, or put on, the rack."
And, as Bart Giamatti also noted, "liberal" modifying arts, is not necessarily the same "liberal" that can modify education,
"unless one studies . . . in a spirit which. . . seeks no immediate sequel, which is independent of a profession's advantage. If you pursue the study of anything not for the intrinsic rewards of exercising and develop the power of the mind but because you press toward a professional goal, then you are not pursuing a liberal education but rather something else." 
Burdened by heavy reality in American life -- to have any value at all anything must have a price tag -- Secretary Duncan spoke almost three decades after Bart's extraordinary Presidential address to incoming students at Yale College. 
"A liberal education is defined by the attitude of the mind toward the knowledge the mind explores and creates. Such education occurs when you pursue knowledge because you are motivated to experience and absorb what comes of thinking."
When I offered this view of college at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Medical Society to evaluate the "pre-med" curriculum, I was quickly marked as wacko: "there's too much information to stuff doctors' heads with, you dummy." (That was before Google. Medical education may be changing.) 

But you too may ponder Bart's rhetorical question:
"That is very touching . . . but how does someone make a living with this joy of learning and the pleasure in the pursuit of learning? What is the earthly use of all this kind of education later on, in the practical real world?" 
A recent answer inspired these thoughts: last week's 2014 Commencement address by Fareed Zakaria at Sarah Lawrence. I have collected earlier answers, by Bart Giamatti, William Cronon, and Stanley Fish (pdf's in my Dropbox). And just for completeness: liberalism as a political philosophy has two chief ideals, liberty and equality. In a liberal democracy, all citizens have equal power because all are possessed of reason and have the liberty to employ it in expression.

See also the exquisite Joyce DiDonato's Juilliard commencement address, an extraordinary artistic variation on Bart's passion.

Meanwhile, I'll be reading Bart's The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic. So far as I know, Bart was the only Commissioner of Baseball (he finally got a job) to write about the Renaissance.

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