Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The answer is blowing in ... liberal education

It was nearing bed time, but I decided to check my news-feed anyway.  I am glad I did.

I spotted one that referred to Bob Dylan's Nobel lecture.

I pulled up the text that kept my attention focused as I listened to him with the jazzy piano in the background.  It was a delight, as he talked about things that were familiar to me, and to many that were alien to me.  Many that I had no idea about; like this:
John Donne as well, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, "The Sestos and Abydos of her breasts. Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests."
Sestos? Abydos?

I suppose Dylan knew that there would be blokes like me listening.  Which is why adds there:
I don't know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.
Dylan then talked about Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.
I had principals and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally.
In grammar school? We don't do those books, or their equivalents, even in college level these days.  If the learning material is more than two screens of scrolling, well, forget it!

I love how Dylan talks about those classics.  Not merely his interpretations, which are wonderful by themselves.  But, more importantly, about how those classics provided him with "an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by."  Which is also what I often I blog about--how short-stories and full-length fiction help me understand the human condition, and how they give me a frame of reference.  And, yes, "either knowingly or unintentionally" those awesome works find their way into my own teaching and writing.

Instead of grounding ourselves on such a broad understanding, which is what liberal education is all about, we increasingly focus on the tricks of the trade.  We train programmers.  We train statisticians, lab technicians, graphic designers, ... We do not educate anymore, it seems.


Ramesh said...

Why are you looking at a news feed before you go to bed ?? Read Nabokov, young man, and go to sleep counting sheep !

By the way, there is some advantage in having an education system that does not change at all and moves at glacial pace. All those classics that you have listed are all still covered in schools these days - can confidently say it since I know it from the young lady. What the kids of today make of it is an entirely different matter. That age is inappropriate for any of that stuff.

Sriram Khé said...

There are a few schools and colleges where those classics continue to be integral components of education. But, the vast majority couldn't care less about works like All Quiet on the Western Front or Moby Dick.
Yes, what the students "learn" from that is up to them, as much as it is up to them to learn from my classes too.

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