Curriculum Vitae

2003-01-05

Education for life.

I recently glanced through Sister Miriam Joseph's book on the trivium, which has spurred some thinking on my part about education. The trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric formed the foundation for education in the mid-to-late Middle Ages, and provided a thorough study of language (especially the Latin language), thought, and expression. The trivium was supplemented in those days by arithmetic (the study of number) and geometry (the study of space), for which music theory and astronomy served as applied sciences; these four disciplines together were referred to as the quadrivium. The trivium and quadrivium comprised the seven liberal arts, a curriculum that was intended to free the mind and prepare it for the study of the more advanced disciplines, especially philosophy and theology.

What would a modern "curriculum for life" look like? I see the following:

Methods of thinking -- this would be something like a new organon (to refer to Bacon's Magna Instauratio). It would include practical study of logic and language along the lines of the trivium. It would also include something like the quadrivium, but updated to incorporate modern advances in mathematics; I at the least study of number (arithmetic/algebra), extension (geometry/trigonometry), populations (statistics/probability), and motion (calculus). This new organon would provide a practical grounding in methods of knowledge and communication, and would be supplemented where appropriate with insights from philosophical epistemology.

Nature of reality -- this would be an overview of knowledge about physical, biological, and human reality: physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, and the like. Many of these disciplines would incorporate an evolutionary perspective (e.g., cosmology, geology, biology, psychology). It would also be important to understand how these sciences developed and evolved out of metaphysical speculations such as philosophy and religion, and also out of the sheer need to understand human phenomena such as markets and trade. This natural history would discuss issues from philosophical metaphysics where appropriate.

Human creations -- an understanding of both the arts and technology. This would include the traditional focus on appreciating the fine arts of music (with connections to number), painting, sculpture, architecture (with connections to engineering), and literature (with connections to the trivium). While the fine arts are important for understanding the human psyche, modern times have also demonstrated the crucial importance of technology to human progress; thus any truly liberated human being must understand the principles involved in civil, chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering, as well as practical arts such as medicine and computer science. There are connections here both to aesthetics (obviously in the fine arts, but also in industrial design) and to modern science (obviously in technology, but also in music, painting, and sculpture), although we must recognize that technology advanced for centuries without any scientific grounding.

Ethics -- Unlike much or most of metaphysics and epistemology, ethics continues to stand alone as a critically important discipline in its own right. While a modern study of ethics would not ignore insights from biology or psychology, it would primarily investigate the history of reflection on the good and the good life. Both personal and social ethics would be addressed, with the latter verging on political philosophy through an understanding of justice and law. This might also include practical or applied ethics, though not in the sense common within academia (e.g., setting priorities, managing one's time, fostering human relationships).

I see the foregoing as essentially an education in personal enlightenment and liberation, with faith (religion) and force (politics) having no positive place therein (although they would be studied historically). But the goal would not be purely intellectual: it would also be eminently practical, and the curriculum would emphasize practical applications throughout (even including "mundane" activities such as first aid, organizational management, accounting, marketing, cooking, carpentry and other home skills, physical training, athletics, and weapons training). It's also important than any such curriculum must include purely personal time for individual projects and pursuits, a la the monitored anarchy of Sudbury-style schools.

These are merely first thoughts on the subject. I'm not sure where I'm going with them, even though I've long thought that a worthy life-project would be to start a college. For now they're just musings, I suppose. Further reflection required.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal