When it's almost back to school time, along with all the sales in the stores there's the usual stuff for sale too about the value of education. Trouble is, there's about as many ideas of what is an education, not to mention of what is its value, as there are kinds of pens, notebooks and clothes in the stores.
So let's start with the good old liberal arts education, as distinct from learning what you need to know to make a living out there.
You don't hear much about it these days, but the ideas of liberal arts education, like democracy, originated in Greek antiquity, in societies where those who were going to participate in democracy and have such an education were not burdened by having to "work", and that was done by a slave class. "Liberal" comes from the Latin for free, and a liberal art originally meant something appropriate to the free class, not the slave class.
You might hear that the liberal arts were originally seven, the first three being grammar, rhetoric and logic, also known as dialectic, a three-part way known in Latin and consequently to the West as the Trivium (from which our word trivial comes too, trivial matters being those you learn to get on to the heavy lifting of reality itself), and the last four being arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, the four-part way called the Quadrivium.
The Seven Liberal Arts.
The Three Part Way, the Trivium.
3. Logic (dialectic).
The Four Part Way, the Quadrivium.
4. Arithmetic. (Absolute Multitude)
5. Music. (Related Multitude)
6. Geometry. (Stationary Magnitude)
7. Astronomy. (Mobile Magnitude)
Nice to know, but doesn't tell you a damn thing about what this was all about, though it looks like it does.
In the original universities, a person who had completed a course of studies in the Seven Liberal Arts, and passed final examinations by his masters (teachers), was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts.
What does this mean? Not what you would think based on the ordinary current meanings of these words, and that is where the whole problems starts. "Arts" does not mean painting or sculpture or whatever, but the Seven Liberal Arts. "Bachelor" does not mean an unmarried male, but comes from the Latin baccalaureus, and originally referred to the lowest class of knight, a squire, or apprentice, to a knight, or a knight in the service of another knight. The word itself seems to have come from baccalaris, a man employed on a dairy farm. Bacca was a variant of late Latin vacca, which still survives in Spanish as vaca -- cow. The progress is similar to that of a guild learning a trade.On further study, and then participating in and moderating disputations (disputationes), highly formalised debates on the truth of specific propositions, usually based on arguments from appropriate authorities (argumentum ad verecundiam), which are inappropiate to syllogistic logic, in which the syllogism is true or false based on its on its correct process and not who does it, but are common in informal logic, where since no-one can be an expert on everything one relies on those who supposedly are experts on this or that thing, and which is the origin of the ad hominum (against the man), which refutes a statement on the basis that the authority cited is no authority at all -- on such further study and activity, a person would be awarded the degree Master of Arts, the Arts being the Seven Liberal Arts, and "master" deriving from the Latin magister, which looks like master but actually means teacher; one may now teach the Arts.
A degree was simply a step, in Latin gradus, to becoming a teacher or master, hence the term "graduate", a progression again similar to the trade guilds and still seen in the apprentice, journeyman and master structure of qualification in the trades. Since the masters were teachers, they were also called doctors, from the Latin for "to teach". Over time, since the three higher fields of study were Law, Medicine and Philosophy, masters who went into these fields earned a bachelor, then a master, then a final doctor degree in them, and the doctoral degree in these higher faculties came to be regarded higher than the master teachers/doctors, eventually becoming the present Bachelor, Master, Doctor hierarchy, with later fields coming under the division of philosophy along with philosophy itself.
The first universities were modelled on the Islamic madrasahs, then borrowed the structure of trade guilds for preparation, then, with the reforms of Pope St Gregory for learning to include more than liturgy but also theology and canon law, bishops began to establish schools in their cathedral parishes to teach things beyond the monastery schools, then finally with demand far in excess of supply plus the original town and gown tensions between students and townspeople, which were not pretty with rape and murder not uncommon and often protected by clerical immunity, schools gravitated to big cities, with the first modern degree-granting universities established in Bologna (1088), Paris (1160) and Oxford (1167), the final step being recognition by papal bull of a university's autonomy from the city, the church, and each other, meaning non-interference from the state, the church (the proverbial "academic freedom") and also that a graduate from one could teach anywhere jus ubique docendi, with no further examination.
In Bologna, the students ran things, hiring the teachers; in Paris, the church hired and paid the teachers who ran things, and in Oxford, the crown did. As a result, Bologna was not a comfortable place for teachers and fell into decline, and Paris became the leading university and really the great graddaddy of the modern university, although the government sponsorship of Oxford and the later Cambridge (1209) allowed them to survive the replacement of the church with the state Church of England.
A student entered the university at about age 15, and after a six year curriculum in the Liberal Arts, usually with an emphasis on logic, if they passed graduated a Bachelor of Arts. Courses were not by subject so much as by the authoritative book studied, often from Aristotle, the Bible, or the Thoughts (often called the Sentences, from the Latin title Quattuor libri sententiarum, or Four Books of Thoughts, still reflected in the idea that a "sentence" should express a complete thought, of Peter the Lombard, who taught in the cathedral school at Paris). Having graduated from the Faculty of the (Seven Liberal) Arts one could go into the world, or continue in one of the three other, further, fields of Law, Medicine or Theology, which would take another 12 years or so.
So what's the point of all this -- I'm into old stuff that isn't the way it is any more and think you should be too? No, and hell no. For as much "old stuff" as I post on here, I wouldn't consider any of it worth a ginger snap if it didn't do two things for us now: make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing how we got here, and make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing what was the idea of where we were going in the first place.
We've seen a brief summary of how we got to modern education. now some points about where we were going in the first place.
First: education had nothing whatever to do with earning a living. When the idea began, work did not ennoble, it debased, it was done by a class that precisely because it had to work could not possibly have time to learn what one needed to know to participate in democracy or high positions. Later, trades, something learned for the purpose of making a living, were learned in guilds, not universities, with the interesting twist that guilds formed first and universities began by borowing their ideas of how to organise from them! So show a little respect to the repairman that shows up next time you need one.
Second: the trivium was not grammar, rhetoric and logic exactly as we mean them now, nor even something learned for its own sake, but rather learning the tools by which one learns anything at all, just as a tradesman learns the tools of his trade before learning how to use them in the trade itself. Basically, grammar was the study of how thought is written down in symbols (language), rhetoric was the study of how thought is communicated from one person to another, and logic was the study of how to think to reach supportable conclusions. Thus a person will be able to write down or speak his own thoughts rather than just let them rattle around in his head, evaluate whether the written or spoken thoughts of others are well written down or written to hide or disguise things, and evaluate his and others thoughts as to whether the content is supportable or based on unsupportable assertions and/or hidden assumptions which are deceptive.
Recent decades have seen an astounding increase in the ability of thoughts and information to be communicated, starting with mass printing some time ago but exploding first with the coming of radio, then TV, and now the Internet and other forms of digital media; and at the same time have seen an alarming decrease in the apparent ability of people to form, communicate and evaluate thoughts and information. Where the ability to smarten up exists to an unprecedented extent, the fact of dumbing down is seen everywhere.
Amid an unprecedented ability to communicate information, people seem to have less information and less ability to critically evaluate information than ever. And this largely not because people are any more smart or stupid than before, but because educators themselves have nearly totally lost sight of this, that the magnificent increase in the media of communication does not invalidate but in fact makes more needed than ever the basic tools for forming, setting forth, and understanding what is communicated.
This general dumbing down of society is not new, it was noticed decades ago, but it has assumed warp speed as the very means of communication develop at warp speed too. One of the earliest, and still best, more applicable to-day to the means that did not exist when it was written than ever, is an essay called "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy L Sayers in 1947. She was best known for her detective novels, a genre generally considered "low brow", and that such a magnificent and magnificently educated mind as hers should equally well write best selling detective novels exemplfies what this is all about.
Her essay is online now. You can read it here: http://web.archive.org/web/20040415041359/http://redeemerclassical.org/lost_tools.php
Another, and more recent, modern exposition of these tools of learning is by Sister Miriam Joseph of the Sisters of the Holy Cross at St Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, called, guess what, "The Trivium". Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002. Available through Amazon easily.
For the record, here's what the names of the liberal arts in the Quadrivium mean. Once you learned how to study anything at all, the stuff to be studied was divided into two big categories, things that are what they are as combinations of units, and things that are what they are as units that divide into further units. The former were called Multitudes, and further divided into those that are not applied to anything but abstract, which was called Arithmetic, and those that are applied to something, and that is called Music. The latter were called Magnitudes, and further divided into those that do not move, called Geometry, and those that do, called Astronomy.
Arithmetic then simply meant the study of number in the abstract, not appled to anything, just how numbers can be combined and used -- what is generally called math to-day. Music was using numbers to understand a phenomenon, and was further grouped into three areas, musica mundana, using number to quantify and understand the world outside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day physics, chemistry, and the like, musica humana, using number to quantify and understand the world inside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day biochenistry, psychology and the like, and finally and at the lowest level, musica instrumentalis, using number to understand the tones and combinations of tones produced by the instruments that produce them, including the human voice, which is what we generally only mean by music now except it includes only the understanding part, the making of this kind of music being simply a skill and not included for its own sake but left to the uneducated. These days, being able to strum a few chords on a guitar and belt out a few words seems to immediately confer that status of prophet, revelator, visionary, and authority on whatever one belts out about.
So, it's a system for first learning how to learn, then for classifying what is to be learned in order to be educated to fulfill the responsibilites of democracy and high office. It's not at all about going back to the "Music of the spheres", in which the mathematical ratios in tones and in the orbits of the sun and planets around the earth were though to be the same, or anything like that. What happened was, as some of the knowledge taught within the system was later found to be either incomplete or just false, like what orbits around what, the system itself and more importantly the overall unity of things which it expressed also came into question.
New knowledge did not replace invalidated knowledge in the system as it should have but was confused with the system itself and brought it down, and thus we have the start of our fragmented knowledge and view of learning to-day. This began when difficulties in reconciling Aristotle with Christian doctrine became more and more apparent, and the bishops of Paris issued a series of formal Condemnations, most notably those of 1277 by bishop Etienne Tempier, which had the effect of allowing scientific investigation to proceed without reference to Aristotle.
Which was great for science but also had the effect of everything previously held now possibly being wrong or soon to be found out to be wrong.
A new direction in thought, best summed up in the maxim of the English Franciscan William of Occam, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, or no more things should be thought to exist than necessary, a lex parsimoniae or law of parsimony that brought about a new way of thinking that was skeptical to agnostic, and consciously saw itself as a new way and called itself such, the via moderna or modern way, as opposed to the trivium and quadrivium which became the via antinqua or old way. This turned up in every field, in music (as we use the term now) it was called the Ars nova, a term first used by the theorist Phillippe de Vitry in a book by the same name of in 1322.
Music that was not monophonic chant but polyphonic, with secular themes being placed over a base of a piece of chant, music in duple time rather than triple reflecting the perfection of the Trinity, music written this way for religious purposes -- utterly revolutionary, and part of the shift in the times from the arts to theology itself. What a modern irony that some to-day will perform the motets of Machaut, the greatest of ars nova composers, and be thought to be real fuddy duddys, but Machaut himself in his day was thought of as an affront to everything right and proper for worship!
It was into this world turned upside down and inside out that Martin Luther, having graduated from schools that focussed on the trivium, enrolled at 17 in University of Erfurt in the first year of the 16th century, 1501, graduated with a Master degree in 1505, and went on to the Law school following his father's wishes and the usual pattern. He soon dropped out. Questioning everything, positing as little as possible, and so on was all fine, but at what point did it yield reliable results, also known as answers, which is particularly upsetting regarding the claims of Christian doctrine with some pretty extreme claims of salvation and damnation.
There being no answers, he sought one in what was available, the rigours of the actions of monastic life, to the extent that his superior, Johann von Staupitz, Vicar General of the Augustinian Order in Germany, had him continue an academic career in theology to take his mind off his own salvation, and also spoke to him about the Means of Grace and salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, which, though Staupitz was no Lutheran and lamented the breaking of visible church unity, got him put on the Index of Forbidden Books!
Seems long ago and far away, but it is into exactly this same world turned upside down and inside out than we are born now, just with better means of communication. Each age along the way seems to think it has started a new age, a new way, a modern way, an Age of Aquarius, an Enlightenment, or whatever, simply repeating the confusion of the via moderna with better technology. And our world where graduates can't count back change in their minimum wage jobs, or reliably point on the map to where the people came from toward which they have been taught warm inclusive fuzzies, or hear a news report with an ear to whether or not it contains unexamined assumptions from which supposed conclusions are drawn.
The point of the Lutheran Reformation was not to create a new church or even split the one there was, but to bring back to front and centre the Means of Grace through which salvation is communicated and the message of salvation through the blood of Christ itself -- to paraphrase Luther, making the most clear things about the church what had become the most obscure amid the Roman confusion. The direction in which the later more general Reformation went, which began even in Luther's lifetime, was as opposed by Luther and Lutherans as the errors of Rome.
Perhaps another reformation is needed, not a religious but an educational one, where the tools of learning are actually taught, where a person is then taught how to handle abstact operations, operations applied to things as they add up, how complicated things break down and how that is applied to things. Perhaps that would be education, the basics for participating in our society, open to all now, rather than the latest theories of what is "enlightened" this week, which are handed down as such but amount to no more than secular articles of faith handed down ex cathedra from an authority which, when it takes itself to be such, violates the very parsimony and science it thinks it passes on, as it neither guarantess a correct conclusion nor prevents a false one and may not even be applicable to a particular field, and if applied to all fields as a universal principle violates its very definition.
Oh, why Lyceum. That was the name of the school that Aristotle founded in Athens, right beside the temple of Apollo of Light, Apollo Lykeios. Its location was rediscovered in 1996, just east of modern downtown Athens. The word survives in modern European languages for roughly what we call high school in the US. "Academy" and like words btw come from the school Plato founded in a sacred grove dedicated to Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, called the Akademia. Hekademia originally, actually. Its most famous graduate -- Aristotle.
More BTW -- the custom of referring to the school from which one graduates as "alma mater" comes from the University of Bologna, which, like the other two Universities mentioned above, Paris and Oxford, still exists. The school's motto is Alma mater studiorum, nourishing mother of studies, and, as the oldest degree granting university in the West, it caught on as a reference to one's school, Bologna or not. The University of Paris does not exist as such, has been reorganised many times over the centuries, is currently a set of 13 universities still evolving, and are often known by the name in some of them, The Sorbonne. Luther thought the plays of Terence, after whom I was named IRL, were excellent for children's learning.
OK, some old stuff, but only because you'll know who passed these ideas from the end of the ancient world with the fall of the Western Roman Empire to later times, including us. First, a guy named Martianus Capella, who sometime after Alaric trashed Rome in 410 wrote a book called De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii et de septem Artibus liberalibus libri novem, which means On the Wedding of Philology and Mercury, and the Seven Liberal Arts, in Nine Books. The first two books are an allegorical love story about how Mercury, the pursuit of learning, actually learns by way of communicated information, Philology, and the remaining seven are textbooks in each of the seven arts he sets out as above. They were largely based on existing ancient works, and the whole thing was pretty much an encyclopedia of its time, which, when that knowledge began to show itself lacking, the whole thing started to appear lacking, as we discussed above, and scholars now routinely diss him, when what is needed then as now is separating the system itself from the content of any given time.
Second, a guy named Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, who lived shortly thereafter. His best known work is On the Consolation of Philosophy, written while awaiting execution by the Arian Western Roman Emporer Theodoric for supposed treason with the catholic Eastern Roman Emperor Justin. However he translated a bunch of ancient works into Latin, and in his rather free translation of Nicomachus' book on arithmetic also set out the liberal arts, giving them the trivium and quadrivium names, and in his On Music set out the three-fold division of music above, and these books remained standard authorities in universities for hundreds of years and the Consolation is one of the most influential books ever written.
Third, a second cousin of Martianus with a variant spelling of the last name, Antonius Cappella, who wrote thousands of pieces of music, all of them identified by the way he signed his name, A Cappella, in a wide array of styles still performed to this day. OK, I'm just jacking around now. A cappella actually means "from the chapel" and was used to designate purely vocal Renaissance polyphony generally for the church from the later Baroque concertato style which featured alternating vocal and instrumental parts in a piece of music. Oddly enough, turns out those vocal motets were often doubled on instruments, but they didn't know that, so the term came to mean pretty much any music that is singing only, no instruments. Except for a small school of hard cores, in a city named for its big reeds, Acapulco de Juarez in Mexico, who wouldn't use the reeds for instruments, so the style is also called singing Acapulco. OK I'm jacking around there too.