In Praise of Polymaths

Da Vinci

Flywheels – Leonardo da Vinci

The Liberal Arts can be your best educational path to achievement in a specialized field, according to Robert Twigger in his article “Anyone Can Learn To Be a Polymath.”

Polymath refers to one who has learned much, people like Da Vinci, Goethe, and Benjamin Franklin. Yet the Western World now prizes the opposite: a “monopath” who often turns out to be a one-track, over-specialized bore. While specialization promotes a beneficial division of labor, Twigger argues that “[h]uman nature and human progress are polymathic at root.”

Reasons for the success of polymaths are both practical and scientific. A polymath is not as bound to the conventional wisdom of a particular discipline. He can see and be inspired by connections among disparate things. Brain researchers also find that the capacity to make intellectual connections thrives among people who take on new subjects.

Continue reading this article at Professor Carol.




The Role of Music in Education


The value of music within liberal education long was unquestioned. The most revered sources of Western cultural values, beginning with Plato, emphasized the advantages of a theoretical education in music. Yet we tend to view the study of music today in a purely utilitarian way: as the acquisition of a skill useful to the few people destined to become performers, with the rest being simply dabblers pursuing music as an amusement – as an elective.

But the study of music fosters skills required in all academic endeavors and all facets of life: discipline, patience, discernment, flexibility, and creativity. Music aids memory. It crosses disciplines, combining the concrete world of physics with the abstract world of mathematics and time. The child who learns to hear in a discerning way will grasp language more strongly and gain the ability to think in a more nuanced way. Most importantly, music teaches aesthetics, as do all of the arts.

Can basic music training deliver so much? The answer is yes, but needing to state that answer is worrisome since the fruits of musical training never used to be questioned. That we let music education slip away so easily is tragic for those students deprived of its benefits. Fortunately, reinstating music education is not difficult. The resources have never been more accessible.

The study of aesthetics matters. Pursuit of beauty, something we appreciate purely for what it is and not for what it does, is essential to the human condition. And that’s why music and the arts – the discovery of beauty and the gradual refining of an aesthetic sense – are central to a Classical Education.




Business and the Liberal Arts

Former CEO Edgar Bronfman argues that the best preparation for a business career lies in the Liberal Arts.

My advice, however, is simple, but well-considered: Get a liberal arts degree. In my experience, a liberal arts degree is the most important factor in forming individuals into interesting and interested people who can determine their own paths through the future.

But people take a more practical approach to education these days, stressing the acquisition of skills that readily translate into employment. Can’t we become interesting and well rounded after we have the security of paycheck? Of course, you can always study the Liberal Arts in college or on your own, but that misses the point. Bronfman argues not that the Liberal Arts are a luxury item in the business world, but that they are standard equipment essential to success:

We must remember, however, that what is seen as cutting-edge practical or technological knowledge at the moment is ever-evolving. What is seen as the most innovative thinking today will likely be seen as passé in ten years. Critical to remaining adaptable to those changes is to have developed a mind that has a life beyond work and to track the changes of human progress, by having learned how much we have changed in the past.

Chris Perrin initially flagged this article published in Inside Higher Ed. Read the rest.

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