Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bruce Lee, the Liberal Arts and the Tao of Jeet Kune Do

So I am often asked as a musician, who are my influences.   That is always a tough question, because everyone and everything is my influence, but I usually respond with Jaco, J.S. Bach, Paul McCartney, Beethoven, Geddy Lee, Scot LaFaro.... uh.... Joe Kapp and Bruce Lee...   What?!? 

Let me back up...

Most of musicians I know, love sports.  And think about it, with all of the fine tuned body mechanics, from breathing to core strength to the hand dexterity, plus the endurance of an 8 hour per day practice schedule necessary to be being a top level performing artist - music is indeed an athletic activity. 

So too the best athletes are indeed artists. I love American Football, I loved to play it in my "Musicians Football League" (check out my satirical essay Football for Musicians ) and I love watching the strategy of the game, and how the highly developed artists compensate and improvise when a play does not develop as planned. It is music!  The same is true when watching a good MMA match.  While I am not really into the violent aspect, the good MMA artists, understand it as a sport where athletic competition is a "puzzle" to be solved  - where the process of solving aids in the development of ones character and ability - where using the best of everything you have helps develop the character and ability of your opponent.

As a philosophy major, music educator, and amateur mixed-martial artist, I am always keen on learning more about the intersection of the mind, spirit and body -- i.e. the Human Being and how Being interacts with the environment.

This approach helps my own playing, but more importantly it ensures that my students learn to turn their entire body into an instrument which is freely capable of "singing" their mind. And "conversing" with others.  To do this, I spend a great deal of time developing of a fine tuned, relaxed technique, with the entire body free from tension.  It is especially tough for some of my younger students who just want to learn flashy riffs and play fast right away.(Speaking as an aficionado of heavy metal, one cannot ever hope to play fast (and groove) if they are full of tension.) - But again we are learning not simply for ourselves but to play with others, engage in musical dialog and raise the level of discourse.
This past summer I had the opportunity to pay my respects to Bruce and Brandon Lee.  I opened my copy of his Tao of Jeet Kune Do and discovered passages which to my mind coincide with my approach.  

A few excerpts from Bruce Lee's posthumously published notebook 

An artist's expression is his soul made apparent, his schooling, as well as his "cool" being exhibited. Behind every motion, the music of his soul is made visible. Otherwise, his motion is empty and empty motion is like an empty word - no meaning

Art is never decoration, embellishment; instead, it is work of enlightenment. Art, in other words, is a technique for acquiring liberty.

李小龍 Lee Jun-fan (1940-1973)
The aim of art is not the one-sided promotion of spirit, soul and senses, but the opening of all human capacities - thought, feeling, will - to the life rhythm of the world of nature. So will the voiceless voice be heard and the self be brought into harmony with it.
李小龍 Lee Jun-fan (aka: Bruce Lee) 1940-1973
The Tao of Jeet Kune Do
. 1975

Monday, December 14, 2015

Instinct, Morality, and the Pursuit of Truth

Just some simple thoughts from this rural Iowan who has made St. Paul his home for 20 years. An issue which keeps me up at night when I consider the kind of world in which I am raising my children, is the unwillingness for many humans in a community to do the really hard work of honest investigation into matters of knowledge.  Most it seems are inclined to rest comfortably in superficiality.

In this state of mind, information contrary to our experience is often viewed as an attack upon our values. With our convictions left unchecked we have a tendency to do anything to defeat our attacker.  Discussion turns to adversarial contest where lies and misinformation are prized if it helps win.

Unchecked instincts are what motivate us toward the acquisition of wealth, power, and prestige, placing them as our final good.. There are entire industries out there which freely exploit these instincts:  advertisements, reality and gossip centered TV shows, the bulk of talk radio shows, negative political ads, 140 character tweets and Facebook posts,  bathroom graffiti, sound-bytes,bumper stickers, billboards, mass e-mails of spurious content, cheer-leading, etc. -- If any of these avenues spark in us emotions of anger or smugness, it is a warning sign, that we are being lazy if we do not take time to thoroughly investigate the claims.  For without sincere investigation, we can make no claim to pursuing Truth.  Unchecked, convictions are seriously unhealthy for the development of personal character.  This is a requirement of the liberated person in a functioning democracy which tries to build strength through community.

Raising each other up and pursuing knowledge and success in life is not a politically divisive issue.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Gene Veith, Andrew Kern and Public Classical Education

An Academic Institution should never be grounded in Anecdote. 

The seductive polemics of these four populist authors boils down to their assertion that "Truth is what we believe it to be."  Basically they exhibit the very kinds of arguments Socrates loved to take down. 
While there exist many readily available populist accounts which praise and encourage a need for Classical Education, the difficulty for Public Schools wishing to adopt a Classical Curriculum lay in that the majority of these essays and books are inadequate.  While they often raise good points, they rely more heavily upon Rhetoric to persuade while lacking both Logic and substance.  
In recent decades, the majority of published works on Classical Education are based neither in academic research in cognitive development, nor are they informed through rigorous academic scholarship which utilizes critical examination of Classical sources through historical methods and textual reception.   More often than not, these works are limit the variety of Classical thought -- cutting away significant primary sources which challenge the convictions of the particular market to which they are trying to sell their product.(ironically this strategy alone --i.e. forgoing the pursuit of truth and holding customers in ignorance by marketing for the sake of personal profit -- seems quite contrary to the values of Classical Virtue Ethics)

The fact is, many Classical schools which promise to instill life long learning and critical thought  have founded their educational philosophy upon texts which have not been critically examined.  

A school which is built upon such foundation of empty Rhetoric alone does not stand up to scrutiny. Some populist works which have been cited in the modern Classical Education movement include two 1940s era speeches by British fiction authors: Dorothy Sayers', The Lost Tools of Learning and C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.  While I personally find their rhetoric inspiring for an audience already convinced of the need for classical education, and as such remain recommended reading, their arguments raise a number of "red flags" to student of Logic, their historical accuracy is a bit sketchy for the student of Classics, and their misrepresentation of progressive education is unfair an a quite a bit overblown. 

So a list such as this (Suggested Readings for Public Schools) is intended for a school committee to move well beyond these more populist works,do the hard work and delve deeper into rigorous academic research to provide a more substantive base which will hold up to Academic scrutiny.
As a start, I recommend the following anonymous critique of a C.S. Lewis argument in one of the chapters of The Abolition of Man.  It is entitled, CS Lewis Men without Chests, a Critique.  While this may not be a perfect critique, the author does point out some of Lewis' more obvious logical fallacies.

Critique of the Gene Veith / Andrew Kern book
The work Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and Andrew/Kern is a short readable book intended persuade the general audience, who are not versed in academic scholarship. The authors appear to be neither Classics scholars nor educational theorists.  Dr. Veith holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Kansas, and Andrew Kern, holds a BA From Concordia Univeristy, though he does not indicate in what field.  

Their work focuses on the various ways the new Classical Education movement, begun in the later half of the 20th century, has been implemented throughout the United States. There exist much to be admired in their easy to read approach. It serves as a good starting point for some casual discussions. It provides quick uncritical descriptions of the Trivium and Quadrivium in the Liberal Arts curriculum of the Middle Ages; its shares the common frustrations held by many of us who teach in the humanities; and as a source for those looking for a particular kind of Liberal Arts college curriculum.  As a foundational text for establishing a public state funded charter school however, this work should not be considered without some serious reservations. 

As the work focuses on modern schools,  a number of works cited are written by those have proposed methods and started their own Classical Education schools,  A critical examination of the End Notes reveal a serious lack of primary Classical sources and critical evidenced-based research in education.  As such it ignores the majority of core philosophical topics discussed by the ancients.  These sources are essential to bring fully informed discussion of Classical ideals to the foreground.. Tbe work relies on secondary sources such as newspaper editorials and articles from official sounding journals.

The result is a biased opinion intended both to politicize and to market Classical Education to a "family values demographic who are skeptical of academics engaged in critical evidence based research.

Veith and Kern reel in the casual reader with the common frustrations in contemporary education.
If Veith and Kern stopped with these points, This book would serve as a perfect introductory guide for a public state funded school
Once hooked, the authors subtly misrepresent other educational methods.  They do this by building upon the unnecessary fallacies begun by Lewis and Sayers deriding and equating extreme straw man stereotypes.  What is left is a narrative that dishonestly confuses such concepts as Multiculturalism, Post Modernism, Dewey, Progressive Education, Evolution, Evidence based scholarship etc.  For them, these concepts are not only separate from but also destructive to Classical Education and their adherents serve as oppressors to "Free thinkers" in higher education.  Dr. Veith uses the term Fascist to characterize those who do not adhere to his vision of Classical Education.  For more in his own words view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWGlEcgKkFw

He sounds friendly and sincere, but his strategy is to vilify, a common rhetorical strategy utilized when an author, who cannot present a logical or substantive argument, wants to persuade the mob.  It is far easier to play the victim of "post-modernists" (p. 112) when an author wishes to justify their avoidance of utilizing critical research and peer review.

Veith and Kern's Classical Education serves as an excuse to attack Classical scholarship and evidence based research.. Because of their omission of actual primary sources, They remove the process and methods essential to Classical Philosophy from the center of Classical Education,  To fill this void, he favors one particular strand of belief.  In their case, this clears the way for a definition of "Truth" that is exclusively Bible-based, universally supportive of free enterprise, and Intelligent Design.

All other historical criticisms to that view, they brand as "Post Modern" or "Dewey" influenced. Here is a link to Kerns anti-Dewey, Anti-Darwin polemic: https://www.circeinstitute.org/2007/11/how-dewey-has-overcome-american-christianity-and-overthrown-america

Anyone who spends so much time bashing the Socratic influenced methods of inquiry practiced by John Dewey has clearly never read Plato, OR Dewey,...or the vast bulk of Classical philosophical dialog for the past 2,500 years. Then someone like Veith who refers to Academics who actually engage in peer review and historical research methodologies, as "Fascists" who discourage "Free Speech" This Cult of Sayers, Lewis, Kern, and Veith is poisonous to Classical Education -- (don't even get me started on their straw man fallacies against Analytic Philosophy.)

I should not have to point out the irony, that if questioning the values of Western Civilization were in conflict with Classical Education, we would have no Socrates, Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, Hildegard von Bingen, Martin Luther, Galileo, John Adams, Thomas Jeffereson, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr.     Finally, at the risk of committing a few logical fallacies myself it should be noted that  1) Schools which require a signed Statement of Faith, such as Patrick Henry College where Dr. Veith teaches, limit freedom of inquiry required for Classical Education; 2) The book itself is published by a conservative think tank, Capital Research Center  --

In the end, we have to wonder who benefits? It is merely an excuse for them to say, We don't need to abide by Scientific Method, We'll just sell books to a like minded mobs, using Anecdotes instead of legitimate sources. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Science Appreciation and the Study of Music

Remember shows like Mr. Wizard, Beakman's World, Bill Nye the Science Guy? These were designed to inspire the young into the joys of science and inquiry, with the hopes that they would grow into scientifically literate adults who, if they did not happen to pursue a career in the sciences, would nonetheless know and understand enough to recognize its importance to humanity and the world.

Today it is relatively easy to find such Science Appreciation demonstrations on video.  These range from hammering a nail with frozen banana, exploding hydrogen filled balloons to demonstrations of chain reactions with mousetraps and ping pong balls.

Take a moment to watch the video below:

Wasn't that cool!  Did it provoke an emotional response?  I mean really! All of those ping pong balls flying all over the place in such a cool explosion!  That was really entertaining.

...did you learn anything from the video?

It may be entertaining, but did this video provide us with any significant detail regarding the actual science, the history of methods which lead up to the ability to conduct the experiment and predict results, the weights, measures, formulae, the safety precautions etc..... In other words, did this video provide you with any value as to the NEED to study science as a curricular subject in school?

Should we include the study of Language if all the students read are trashy novellas? Math if all they learn are mathematical parlor tricks? Medieval History if they simply watch "Game of Thrones?"

From this perspective there seems little value teaching Science, Math,  History or English as a core requirement.  An observation of an exploding balloon makes for a fun extracurricular activity, but provides nothing which requires scholarly discipline.

Appreciation or Study
This is however exactly the all too familiar attitude faced by music educators on a daily basis. For just as the exploding balloon is to a Richard Feynman, Isaac Newton, or Albert Einstein; the pop song is to a J.S. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, or Maurice Ravel.  In schools, we require all students to conduct lab experiments; to get inside the process of doing scientific experiments, but we routinely make instrumental music an elective.

Pop songs, like the science video above, are appreciated as passive entertainment.  Classical music is at best merely deemed worthy of appreciation for its beauty.  This makes for a convenient excuse for the misinformed to disregard proposals for the reintegration of the curricular Music programs. For whatever we think of "appreciation" it is ultimately a condescending term.  Would we ever think to offer English as an "appreciation" course and forgo its study of grammar, syntax, interpretation?

The fact of the matter is that the Study of Music is hard.  It ranks among the most difficult disciplines to understand and study as it does not simply involve just audible "music." Degree programs require a heavy dose of science, math, literature, foreign language and history.

Forgive me if I sound a bit defensive in this side track here:
...to be considered for a graduate program in Musicology,  Not only must students be able to audibly identify a minimum of 1,000 works, genres and composers, within specific historical, regional and philosophical traditions from the past 2,500 years (based upon either a 5-10 second audio clip or a fragment of a musical score), but they must also be able to dictate music by ear (that is identify pitches, rhythms, instrumentation and transcribe into notation), read and sing from a musical score...as well as improvise a harmony by sight during a piano proficiency exam.
When music has a text, one must be able to understand literary devices, religious and secular nuance and metaphysics -- how these concepts are set to music (if the music has a text).
For a Masters program in musicology, A student must have reading proficiency in at least one Foreign language, but its more beneficial to learn the big three: German, French, and Italian.  Plus if, like me, you desire to study medieval music, you must also know Latin, (Ancient Greek helps too).
Historical research methods, paleography etc., and deep understanding of Literature and interpretive methodologies is also required. In fact, many works of literature require musical knowledge to understand the full meaning a text.
-- I have not even touched upon the requirements for the  Ethnomusicology and Linguistic expectations for the degree)
Musicians must also have a basic understanding of room acoustics so that with the practiced technique of properly tuned fine motor skills, they are able to produce music with an appropriately informed musical performance practice. - For my electric bass performances, I routinely draw upon classical guitar and cello sources, but also the results of pedal technique used by professional organists.
This brief clip, with dialog from the movie "Amadeus" demonstrates the expectation of what is required of a Music major.

So when a musician speaks of the importance of music education, they are speaking from a much deeper and integrated understanding of music. This is quite a different perspective than one which thinks of music as the simply pop song, or the casual untrained person playing and singing in a weekend garage band -- who is almost certain to develop vocal cord nodes or tendinitis.

Some relevant links:
Music and the Brain http://www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu/slideshows/music/index.php
The Music Instinct http://www.pbs.org/wnet/musicinstinct/
History of Music in Classical Education - http://www.xenmcguire.com/2015/04/music-in-classical-education-part-1.html

To provide just a brief glimpse on how all of these disciplines intersect, take some time to peruse one of the three (3) study guides I wrote for the Minnesota High School Music Listening Contest.  This was written to condense some of these more heavy subjects for an 8th grade reading level:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Suggested Readings for Public Schools
adopting a Classical Curriculum

What follows are my initial recommendations and rationale for a basic reading list of essential works for parents, administrators, faculty and students engaged in a Classical Education through a Public School.   As I do not claim to know the answers. my intentions are to pursue some sort of mutual understanding.  My hope is that you will gladly contribute your recommendations into the mix:

Why the need for a public school to have such a list?
While there exist many readily available accounts which praise and encourage a need for Classical Education, the difficulty for Public Schools wishing to adopt a Classical Curriculum lay in that the majority of these essays and books inadequate.  While they often raise good points, they rely heavily upon anecdotes rather than substantive evidence..  
In recent decades, the majority of published works on Classical Education are based neither in academic research in cognitive development, nor are they informed through rigorous academic scholarship which utilizes critical examination of Classical sources through historical methods and textual reception.   More often than not, these works limit the variety of Classical thought -- cutting away significant primary sources which challenge the convictions of the particular market to which they are trying to sell their product.(ironically this strategy alone --i.e. forgoing the pursuit of truth and holding customers in ignorance by marketing for the sake of personal profit -- seems quite contrary to the values of Classical Virtue Ethics)

When speaking to the benefits of Classical Education to the development of moral character, one is immediately drawn to the study of Philosophy.
As Philosophy is the Mother of All Disciplines and at the Heart of Education, I suggest at minimum the following four (4) works: Plato's Apology, Books II and III from Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy; Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance.
[With all of these (or any primary source text) look for a Critical Scholarly Edition in the original language (Brepols Publishers contains the best work replacing a number of the ambitious but faulty 19th century editions produced by Migne and Pitra).  If your Greek and Latin are rusty, look for an English translation based upon the Critical Edition (newer tends to be better as it is based upon much larger amount of primary source materials with large teams of scholars working on producing texts, rather than some of the older (esp, 19th century editions) which tend to be quite biased to a 19th century worldview - but if you are stuck with a 19th century text (like many of my links are), you can be on guard and hopefully find an original text to check their translation.] 

The Allegory of The Cave (Book VII of The Republic): This is the Heart of Education, here is an overview of what Plato wrote, (without the religious interpretation by later commentators). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RWOpQXTltA
The following Dialogues are among Plato's earliest and are fairly easy to digest.
     EuthyphroEnglish translation - Commentary & Analysis - Greek text
          (What is Piety?)
     * ApologyEnglish translation - Commentary & Analysis - Greek text
 - This is early work is what really set the stage for Education, Philosophy, Ethics
         "The un-examined Life is not worth living."
Incidentally, here is a fun 15-minute abbreviated Live action Video –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23Pl2HcmpVk
      MenoEnglish translation - Commentary & Analysis - Greek text 
            (What is Virtue?) -- This is the classic!
      The Republic - Started to become known in to the West in the 13th century.  Lots of differing opinions on its meaning - some have taken Socrates literally others as intentionally satirical to demonstrate some of the more ridiculous claims.
   Nicomachean Ethics
     Consolation of Philosophy - Commentary

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius  Last of the Romans - First of the Scholastics.  It is through Boethius that the bulk of Western (Latin language) Classical education was transmitted between the years 525-1200 CE.  Aristotle was largely unknown during this time and the only work of Plato known was his Timaeus, which was transmitted via commentaries.  Most all other authoritative learning came through basic encyclopedic works such as Isidore of Seville's Etymologies.

Before Boethius death, he planned on translating all of the works of Plato and Aristotle into Latin with hopes of integrating their Philosophical views.  The very brief but extremely influential Consolation of Philosophy, touches upon many of the themes expressed by both Plato and Aristotle – which is why I start students with it.  Some of the more famous Translations are by King Alfred (who translated it into Anglo-Saxon) and Chaucer, (Middle English), and Queen Elizabeth I into Modern English.  
While Boethius was a Christian, there are no overt Christian references in Boethius' Consolation (though many subsequent vernacular translations (including those mentioned above) have interpreted  it thus-as they have tended to do with many works, including those by Plato and Aristotle)   The Consolation is a short work comprised of 5 books.  For the sake of the current topics,  I highly recommend reading Books II, and III.   Here is a quick synopsis of the entire work with a link specifically to the issue of “Happiness”  http://boethius101.org/?page_id=25
Memorial and Remonstrance
A common theme running through every generation since the time of Socrates, has been that only a certain type of educational philosophy can restore virtue by delivering both academic rigor and moral character in students as contemporary times seem to be falling ever further into decadence .Such a heated conversation took place in the Virginia State Legislature in 1785 (two years before the US Constitution was ratified). 

One of the best arguments demonstrating that Virtue education extends beyond particular Faith traditions was penned by the classically educated, James Madison (4th President of the US and “Father of the Constitution."  The work is his 15 point argument entitled “Memorial and Remonstrance.”  http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions43.html

A contextual history and rhetorical overview of James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance (1785) by Dr. Eva Brann of St. John's College.  In this essay, Dr. Brann demonstrates some of the best type of informative historical scholarship.

In most of these seminal works regarding moral philosophy, especially with regard to the branch known as "Virtue Ethics."  We come across terms like Happiness, Virtue, Truth, Beauty, Goodness.  These terms are not easily rendered into our modern sense as we tend to use them in ordinary casual every day speak.  For example, Jefferson's "Pursuit of Happiness" is not a license to base self serving behavior, but carries a much older and storied pedigree in Philosophical dialog.

Some recommended sources:
“Happiness” is what Aristotle refers to as Eudaimonia http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_eudaimonism.html

The Ethics of Plato

* Here is a chapter from the book entitled, “Philosophy: The Basics” by Nigel Warburton The book is an absolutely accessible and easy to read intro to the basic issues of Philosophy, and this chapter “Right and Wrong” serves us as a good introduction into the topic of Virtue Ethics (and Ethics in general)

Overview of Virtue Ethics in Plato and Aristotle

On Classical Education: History and Methods
The Seven Liberal Arts and Classical Scholarship by David L. Wagner -- If you are serious about learning the history of Classical Education (the Trivium & the Quadrivium), START with this text.  It is intended as an overview for an academic audience (and its kind of old -published over 30 years ago) but it is still a recommended introductory source for scholars.

Socratic Method

Constructivism AND Instructivism

Logical Fallacies

(these works are not critically evaluated, but nonetheless have served to inspire.  For more on tips on how to analyze a source, please visit the quick guide
Works by Classical Scholars
  College is not a Commodity - By Dr. Hunter Rawlings, Classics Professor and 17th President of the Univeristy of Iowa
  Art of the Lecture (newspaper op-ed)
  Why Post Modernism Isn't New - A Classical op-ed rooted in source study

Works by English Literature Scholars and Enthusiasts
(see my critique of these influential but problematic works here)
  The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Bauer
  The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers
  The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
  Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America - Gene Edward Veith, Jr. PhD  and Andrew Kern