|“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious - the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” - Albert Einstein|
A liberal education naturally encompasses the fine arts as part of a well-rounded curriculum. In a world where technology and science take center stage, this attention on the arts can seem out-of-place. How can understanding the play of light on different surfaces or recognizing a great composer’s work help a student achieve in the “real world”?
This question, however, assumes a two-dimensional reality, with a student relegated to the status of a cardboard cut-out. A liberal education embraces the complexity of humanity, recognizing that our brains work on multiple levels as they process things. Take, for example, recent research in neuroscience, psychology and design revealing doodling helps people stay focused, grasp new concepts, and retain information or studies on how different types of music affect performance of cognitive tasks. Our brain is not a calculator, immune to the different languages in which the world speaks.
The fundamental question which liberal education concerns itself with is: What does it mean to be human? The answer to this will determine not only our success in the “real world” but our success in all aspects of life. And, in answering it, almost anyone will somehow stumble upon that fact that our humanity is tied up in unseen things, such as the feeling we get when we see a sunset or hear the pathos in a piece of music or feel the wind on a fall day. New York Times columnist David Brooks describes it this way.
People have built various systems to help them understand human behavior: economics, political science, game theory and evolutionary psychology. These systems are useful in many circumstances. But none completely explain behavior because deep down people have passions and drives that don’t lend themselves to systemic modeling.....
But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought … and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them…[D]oesn’t it make sense to spend some time in the company of these languages — learning to feel different emotions, rehearsing different passions, experiencing different sacred rituals and learning to see in different ways?
At Teacher Planning Day this week, we talked about how language is the most fundamental subject in liberal education. We explored research that shows success in other areas depends upon a great arsenal of vocabulary and knowledge because complex ideas must grow from concepts linked with words. This is why liberal education at the elementary and middle school level is so concerned with the tools of reading, grammar, spelling, and Latin.
But we also touched upon ideas that don’t lend themselves to language – that sometimes there are things to say that there are no words for. This is where art comes in. As Georgia O’Keefe once noted, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way.”
As parents have noted this first quarter, music and art at Classical Prep are much harder subjects for students than at previous schools. These courses are not after thoughts, thrown in to fill the schedule. They are intricately involved with our curriculum and the type of education we aim to give our students. Music and art are part of Classical Prep’s core. These subjects, combined with language, math, history, and science, are needed along our other required subjects to compose a well-rounded education.
So this quarter, our younger elementary students got to experience the sound of “The Four Seasons” through listening to Vivaldi – and, yes, were required to recognize it on a test. In art, they learned about light and dimension and color through drawing. They were also required to learn about the history and technical aspects of these subjects.
To a liberal education, these are the “real world”. Liberal education embraces all parts of humanity, refusing to reduce the mind to something that only needs to be outfitted with technical studies, realizing that the most modern sciences of cosmology and the study of consciousness are themselves largely concerned with taking theoretical leaps into the great mysteries of the universe. In the arts, as in these cutting-edge sciences, the complexity and diversity of human thought join to welcome in the mysterious beauty that is the human mind – and recognize that the surest way to greatness is the ability to navigate these winding roads with a mind that has traveled these path before.
Anne Corcoran, Founder