An Extended Essay on the Value of Cultural Education (3 of 5 stars)
Roger Scruton’s book, I think, is slightly mistitled. The subtitle should probably read something like: “on the importance of education as a furtherance of cultural knowledge.” (Not as pretty and less likely to sell bools than “faith and feeling in a world besieged.”)
This extended essay is an argument for the importance of educating students not just in academics or technical skills, but cultural education. And anyone involved in education knows that this is the minority position right now. Music and art programs have been long under attack, and literature courses focus as much on technical writing skills as they do on examining classic works. Even the mention of “great works” or “the canon” is likely to rouse the ire of many. We prefer John Grisham and JK Rowling.
Scruton further makes things interesting by pointing out that while schools today focuses on “knowledge that” (facts) and “knowledge how” (technical skills). But what also needs to be remembered – what Scruton believes is the chief value of education in culture – is “knowledge what,” which means “knowledge of what to do, how to apply what I’ve learned, and what to feel in given situations.” (As a special educator dealing with students with social/emotional issues, I focused a lot on instruction on how to act and how to feel appropriately, but this was always a “special ed thing.”)
The big criticism I have of Scruton is that he fails to make any compelling case as to why cultural education (education in classic works of literature, art, music) is the only way to achieve this “knowledge what” Yes, the great works of literature are often great because they express characters and dilemmas deeply and thoughtfully, giving the student a wonderful way to view these people and issues objectively. But just as George Eliot produced works that do this, so do contemporary authors like Wally Lamb, Jodi Picoult, and – yes – John Grisham. Scruton prefers the former authors, but doesn’t explain why the latter can not achieve the same things. (And Scruton’s case against pop music is even more ridiculous, reminding me of the used-to-be-hippie who, while listening to classic rock stations, wonders why they don’t make music like they used to. Scruton, like this poor hippie, doesn’t realize that classic rock stations play the hits that survived the test of time, rather than all the top 40 songs that didn’t.) (more…)