Monday, October 5, 2015

The Un-examined Life, Diversity, and the Classical Model

As a college music educator who guides students meeting the expectations of college life, each class presents unique challenges. Not only is there diversity in learning and working styles, but there exists differences in economic and educational privilege as well as distinctions between global, rural, and urban cultures.  I use the Classical Model in my classes to conduct a practical laboratory for civic engagement. In one brief example, most people have an emotional connection to the music they value.  Music analysis is a near perfect vehicle for distinguishing these tastes and presuppositions from the objective musical elements that can be identified (Grammar) and measured (Logic). Equipped with these tools, students discuss their perspectives openly. They learn to articulate how that music persuades (Rhetoric) their emotions, sharing their experiences to produce a clearer understanding of each other through common meaning of descriptive musical elements.  This method hones the transferable skills of analysis, listening, civil dialogue, and serves as a means to engage those with other cultural perspectives.

The issue faced by many of us in higher education is the increasing number of students who require remediation in the varied perspectives of human experience: world history, literature, fine arts, and science. This makes the insights from the example above difficult for students who arrive with a limited knowledge base. What excites me about Classical Education is the dedication in preparing students with a rich foundation to begin fearless investigation into the unknown.

At Nova, we have adopted Seneca's motto 'We Learn not for School but for Life.'   As an extension of Socrates' maxim, 'The un-examined life is not worth living' it encapsulates the Classical spirit of continuous self-evaluation and our connection to nature.   Our Great Hall visually reinforces this spirit.  Students are greeted by the banners of Plato's Cardinal Virtues. Raphael's fresco, "The School of Athens" adorns the stair wall.  This work depicts a nearly 2,000 year long conversation between men and women. In the lower left we see Pythagoras discussing the early science of Music. Above him are influential scholars like Hypatia and Averroes. In the lower right, we would see Euclid on Geometry and Ptolemy on the Cosmos.  At the center, Science and Virtue walk hand in hand in the form of Plato with his "Timeaus" and Aristotle holding "Ethics."

In the 500 years since this work was created, our examinations have become enriched by discoveries revealed through the Scientific Method.  Coupled with the rise of democracy and the recent exponential growth in primary historical sources through digital media, peer-reviewed scholarship today has a more reliable means to evaluate the evidence which constitutes the basis of shared knowledge.  The Classical spirit of Socrates quest yet remains: promoting inquiry into the nature of our motivations as we interact with each other and the practical world.