Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Perspective on Education

Recently, I have been reading Marc Myers' new book, Why Jazz Happened. My reaction has not been wholeheartedly enthusiastic, but I was fascinated by the chapter describing the impact of free education supported by the G.I. Bill on jazz musicians following the Second World War. I was particularly struck by the following comment by Bill Holman:
If I had not gone to Westlake on the G.I. Bill, I probably would have picked up what I learned from other people. School sped up that process, and provided an atmosphere with a like-minded bunch of people trying to get the same knowledge. That spurred me on. Within the first few weeks I attended, I found out the answers to the problems that had been keeping me from writing. I could have found those things out on my own if I had had a little more curiosity. But I didn’t. Going there was a convenient way to find out those things.
What first struck me was the pragmatism of Holman's attitude. However, after some reflection, that phrase about "an atmosphere with a like-minded bunch of people" began to sink into my consciousness. As more and more colleges try to make ends meet by offering degree programs through the Internet, there is the threat of losing sight of the extent to which education takes place in that social world of "a like-minded bunch of people," rather than the challenges of complex texts clarified through the wisdom of experienced professors. Holman missed the point in thinking that college was more "convenient" than "finding those things out on my own;" but at least he was vaguely aware that finding things out has a social dimension beyond the objective dimension of the things themselves.

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