Distilling these fundamentals to a short list of five was more difficult than I anticipated, and I was tempted to include a B-list as an attachment. Each of the principles listed below should begin with “Our curriculum must...”
1. Cultivate students who can reason
about their beliefs.
At the core of a liberal education is the exercise of rational judgement and critical thought; students must be able to employ these tools to justify their own thought and action. This ability to reason is also essential in solving problems, whether those problems arise in a chemistry laboratory, a political debate, a chamber music rehearsal or on a soccer field. Each discipline requires its own brand of critical thought--empirical analysis, deductive reasoning, exegesis of ancient texts--each of which is essential to the pursuit and illumination of truths. While I don’t believe any single set of curricular requirements is the right ¸ one, I do believe that our requirements should encourage students to experience many forms of critical application. Developing this habit of rationality relies less on a specific curriculum than it does on engaged, passionate teaching. Indeed, we should encourage each other to conceive of the undergraduate classroom as an opportunity to introduce a set of problems--problems considered in a content-rich environment. The idea is for each of us to use the techniques of our discipline to convey a lesson in controversy, critical thought, the hazards of bias, etc. Under these conditions, the classroom can become a model for the application of rational thinking--for the posing of, and grappling with, hard questions. (By no means does this downplay the master y of basic factual content. On the contrary, it should enhance it by raising its level: the unstated invitation to the class should be to master enough factual material to take part in the ongoing debate. The facts matter, therefore, only in so far as they make reflection possible).
One issue keeps nagging at me, though: in enacting the “community of reason” Nussbaum proposes, how do we honor our students’ faith commitments--commitments that may not be entirely reasonable? Should we, as faculty and advisors, be willing to help students with the problems posed by faith?
2. Nurture a sense of connectedness to the past. Before the
First World War the education of the elite (at least in
3. Teach our students to communicate. The quality of our relationships with other human beings depends on our ability to communicate effectively. How we express ourselves defines how we are understood and how we understand others. Specifically, I believe we need to help our students with both written and oral forms of expression; our students need to write and speak more clearly and persuasively. I think these skills should be addressed not in a seminar (as described by our guests at the retreat), but rather our four-year curriculum should be saturated with opportunities to develop these skills. ĂI also believe students should experieince alternate forms of expression, such as performing in a music group, acting in a play or taking part in a dance ensemble.
4. Help students to develop an understanding of languages. I believe in the vitality of language study not merely because it enhances our ability to communicate or because of the inherent discipline required to master rules of grammar, but because the sound and structure of each language contain valuable cultural truths. As Jacques Barzun observed, “To speak French well is to understand the French mind.” The subtle use of color and light by the French Impressionist painters and the fine shading of orchestral texture in the music of Debussy are both an extension of the subtlety and nuance of the French language. When a fellow student complained about an uninspired performance he had heard of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe conducted by Herbert von Karajan, our teacher was perplexed: “That’s strange, ” he replied, “von Karajan speaks French so beautifully...” Whatever else it may offer, language study should be the first important step toward helping our students to become citizens of the world and possessors of cultural literacy.
5. Guide students to the fundamental interconnectedness of all disciplines. One day in the faculty lunchroom in the mid-1980’s a group of us were discussing interdisciplinary teaching at Furman. As we do on so many occasions, we turned to Charles Brewer and asked how he talked to students about the connection between disciplines. His response--“I slam my fist on the desk and tell them ‘everything is related to everything else, and dammit, don’t you forget it!’”--seemed to sum things up nicely. This fundamental relationship bet ?ween disciplines has been a cornerstone of liberal education all the way back to the ancient Greeks. According to Plato, the most perfect and harmonious musician was the man who could best blend gymnastics with music and apply them to the soul, not a man who could play an instrument well. The relationship of musical modes with certain heavenly bodies was a natural outgrowth of music’s position as one of the mathematical sciences: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music--the four sciences that later became the quadrivium of the university curriculum. Unfortunately--in part due to disciplinary specialization--the ancient sense of connectedness is all but lost, and I hope our curriculum could reestablish a strong unity between our disciplines. We need not ?handle this through a profusion of interdisciplinary courses, however. Committed and imaginative teachers could carry this principle throughout our curriculum. I can envision preparing a concert of Gregorian Chant that would begin with a discussion of Roman politics and its effect on the burgeoning Christian Church; we would go on to examine the nature of the biblical texts, the mathematical proportionality of consonance and dissonance, the architecture and acoustics of the medieval cathedral and the concept of beauty and how it moves the spirit. Having thus examined the music from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, the presentation ultimately would be that much more informed and inspired.
Posted by love at
September 20, 2004 06:37 PM
Discuss this proposal in the forum, or leave a comment below!