The Contextual Guide and Internet Index to Western Civilization
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The Computer as a Cultural Literacy
The Value of Western Civilization
Goods of the Mind
Genesis of Culture®
Some say the problem with our educational system is an overemphasis on isolated facts at the expense of thinking and reasoning. Others say that students don't know enough of the basic facts. The holders of each view have a perfect grasp of half the truth. I think we are all committed to the proposition that knowing is better than not knowing, and knowing things in context is best of all, because the brain learns best through association. Names, dates and facts are more relevant and easier to assimilate and remember when seen in context, like a sticky ball that accumulates more and more "intellectual lint" as it rolls along. Facts are, after all, the "raw materials" of thought. While unordered raw materials are nothing more than rubble, one certainly cannot build constructs without materials. Indeed, making order out of chaos is the very meaning of "civilization." Electronic learning on the computer can open new avenues to the ordering of facts and the gaining of perspective as well as insights into the interdisciplinary, interactive, contextual, tangential and associative dimensions of knowledge.
Cultural literacy, what Lionel Trilling called "what a student must experience and understand to be called educated," is important, but knowing how historical and cultural facts are linked and woven together throughout the tapestry of civilization is integral to a decent education. History, whether political, literary, musical, artistic, philosophical, theological, etc., is best viewed as an interactive process rather than as a series of isolated facts. Personalities, events, works of art and styles all play on and off each other, and the computer, especially via hypertext exploratory systems, facilitates the understanding of these interactions
Learning is active -- an act of discovery. Fact AND ideas associated with the "canon" or core tradition of Western civilization can come "alive" on the computer screen in new, non-linear, multi-media ways and the exploration of knowledge can actually become "fun," realizing Matthew Arnold's ideal of the "free play of the mind upon all subjects being a pleasure in itself." As the Chinese proverb says, "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand." The computer is merely a tool, and it is possible to harness that tool to actually INVOLVE our students in the wonderful world of ideas. And now with the incredible riches of the World Wide Web (WWW) at our command the wonderful world of ideas is richer than ever.
One of the primary purposes of education is to help us understand how we as A PEOPLE got where we are -- to understand our COLLECTIVE political, cultural and intellectual heritage. For better or worse (sometimes better, sometimes worse) our American institutions have been largely shaped by Western European ideas and ideals.
Some ideas, after all, are better than others. To hold that every culture's ideas and ideals are equally valid is bordering on the reckless. To be sure, the fact that these Western influences are pervasive in American society does not mean that they are "better" than Asian, Oriental or African traditions. But history is not about "better" or "worse" or what should have been or what might have been -- it is about what WAS! And if we don't learn about what was, about how we got where we are and how we live as we do, we will have been cheated out of our COLLECTIVE political, cultural and intellectual heritage.
That white European males have been responsible for much of this heritage isn't "good" or "bad," it is just a fact. There are all sorts of odious, narrow-minded reasons for this. But it isn't Michelangelo's, Shakespeare's or Bach's fault that they were men. They were also triumphant geniuses, and that is why we study them. That is why we will continue to study them. They may be ignored by the myopic for self-serving political reasons, but when this silly season of fads passes, they will still be revered, loved and studied by generations after ours.
When some talk about "inclusion" they often mean the exclusion of geniuses to make way for lesser talents in order to right wrongs or correct injustices not of our making. Jane Austen, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson and Leontyne Price are not heralded by the educational and intellectual establishment so that some bones can be thrown to minorities. They are valued because they deserve to be hailed by any standards of excellence. We don't need peripheral tokens; there's hardly enough time to learn about the true geniuses who have helped shape OUR society.
That one should have to defend the study of what was obvious to generations of our populace for centuries seems incredible, but such is the myopia of our age. To dispute over obscure trees while missing the Western forest we have ALL inherited is to cede all sense of proportion, to loose a grip on reality.
1) Knowledge -- Familiarity with the "canon" or "core"
2) Perspective -- Structured Knowledge
3) Breadth -- Cosmopolitan Knowledge
4) Judgment -- "Rot" Detection
5) Creative intelligence (Cannot be taught per se, but CAN be learned)
6) Philia -- Love of Learning
Culture® really began in 1963. The eminent musicologist Gustav Reese asked a New York University graduate class, "For whom did Dufay work?" Walter Reinhold and other first year graduate students looked at their shoes, the floor and anything else to avoid embarrassing eye contact with a man who could make or break their careers. "Are you all a bunch of dumbbells?" Reese went on. "Don't let this happen again."
In this case, a word to the youthful unwise was sufficient. I started making all sorts of lists, determined to see to it that never again would I be ignorant of the cultural milieu -- the contemporary historical figures, politicians, writers, painters, sculptors, architects, theologians or philosophers -- surrounding any Medieval or Renaissance composer. (Reese was considered the world's leading expert in Medieval and Renaissance music.) Making these contextual lists actually became fun. I started making them for Baroque, Classic, Romantic and 20th-century composers as well.
When I began teaching at NYU in 1968, I asked my students who J.S. Bach's contemporaries were. When met by the familiar glances directed anywhere but toward my eyes, and remembering a good line, I asked, "Are you all a bunch of dumbbells?" I went on to ask, "When was the Renaissance?" More embarrassed eye diversions. Finally, one brave student asked, "Who's supposed to teach us these things?" I decided then and there that I would teach them -- not just music history, but the entire cultural milieu in a given era.
I put together four books (i.e., Medieval and Renaissance, Baroque and Classic, Romantic, and 20th Century) with all sorts of CultureGrids® showing the major countries of the West on the left and the major humanistic disciplines (i.e., history, literature, art, music, religion/philosophy, miscellaneous) at the top. Over the years the boxes became more and more crowded, almost to the point of illegibility.
In June of 1988 Christopher Chapman, co-founder of Cultural Resources, Inc. and a former Reinhold student (a very good one!), woke up one morning and said, "These grids are perfect for HyperCard!" He communicated this revelation to me, and I, who had never touched a computer, said, "What the devil is HyperCard?"
He gave me a Mac Plus and, after six months of essay writing and typing we took all of our word processing documents to Tom Tafuto of Applied Imagination. This young programming wizard made the first three iterations (Culture 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0) look, feel and act the wonderful way they did.
Twelve years later, Culture®4.0., more than ten times as large, full of color and thousands of links to the internet, looks and feels even more wonderful. Reese would have been very happy!
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