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Hullabaloo


Sunday, May 20, 2007

 
Making School Useful: A Response To Althouse

by tristero


Ann Althouse has proposed the elimination of fiction reading from public schools:
Give them history texts and teach reading from them. Science books too. Leave the storybooks for pleasure reading outside of school. They will be easier reading, and with well-developed reading skills, kids should feel pleasure curling up with a novel at home. But even if they don't, why should any kind of a premium be placed on an interest in reading novels? It's not tied to economic success in life and needn't be inculcated any more than an interest in watching movies or listening to popular music.
In an update she tries to explain herself further:
I'm drawing on my own background as a law professor. In law school, we spend much of the time teaching students to read cases. So to me, the combination of learning reading skills and learning substantive material is very familiar. I'm working with adult students, obviously, but they are still learning how to read. If I were to try to adapt this to young readers, I would find elementary, well-written books that present scientific and historical information.
Now many of you, I'm sure, are thinking something like, "What the hay? She thinks the purpose of an education is to train everyone to grow up and do exactly what she did." But that's totally unfair. In fact, readers of this blog may be surprised to learn that I completely agree with Ann Althouse that reading fiction has no business as being part of a public school education.

Truth be told, I don't think she goes far enough. I propose the elimination of all reading from public schools and indeed all subjects but one. Instead, everyone should be taught music and nothing but music. I'm serious. It's the most useful thing you could ever learn. In fact, it's no exaggeration to state that all human knowledge stems from a solid foundation in music. Pleasure? Forget it! Music epitomizes the value Althouse treasures above everything in education. Music is useful. It's the most useful thing you could ever learn.

Music provides you with an intuitive grasp of mathematics. For what else is the theory of music but the study of ratio and proportion? Anyone who's studied music theory understand this. In fact, I myself, when I was in my thirties - this is a true story, people - took two semesters of statistics and scored the highest marks in the class. I attribute it all to my intensive study of harmony and counterpoint at a tender age. If you've ever had to wrestle a vagrant 7th chord back to earth, regression analysis holds no terrors for you, I assure you. Therefore, if children seriously studied music theory, they would have all the background they'd ever need if they wanted to pursue a useful career later in life that required some kind of mathematical expertise.

The study of music is the only way to gain a comprehensive understanding of facts historical. Who today remembers Ludwig of Bavaria? I'll make a bet that most European history texts of the kind Althouse wants us to read give us less than a sentence about him, if they mention him at all. The sheer ignorance on display is breathtaking! You might as well be reading something really worthless, like Heine, or worse, Goethe! But if you studied music, you'd know Ludwig was one of the most important rulers of the 19th Century, for he was a major patron of Wagner.

Ok, around now, I'll bet Ann Althouse is sneering, "You're just making fun of me! You know the world doesn't revolve around music the way it does around something like law. Take me for instance. What can music teach me about something useful to MY life, as a law professor?"

Oh, ho, ho, ho! Dear, dear Ann, now it is you who must be joking. We musicians have a saying, "If you want to get into the creative end of music, get a job in the legal department of a record company." To understand what American law really is, music will teach you everything there is to know, and inspire you to even greater achievements of subtle legal manipulation and skullduggery. And I'm not even bothering to mention that great 20th Century masterpiece, "The Makropolous Case" by Leos Janacek, which takes place primarily in a law office!


As for science, let me be blunt, although I may offend some sensitive scientists amongst my readership. Without music, there would be no science. If all he was remembered for was that goddamm theorem, the world would think Pythagoras was a piker. But musicians know that Pythagoras' research on the division of the monochord's octave is one of the most important projects in the history of science. As a result of this epoch-making research, Boethius, in the Middle Ages, proposed the notion of Music of the Spheres, that all relations amongst heavenly bodies can be described as a kind of music, as ratios. That's right, Mr. or Ms. Smartypants Einstein Wannabe. Without music coming first, there'd be no physics as we know it, no Newton. As for quantum mechanics, don't even go there. Erik Satie beat Bohr by twenty years. And he was funnier.

And let's talk socialization, another very, very useful task for schools to teach. My goodness, what could be more helpful than music? After all, you have to learn how to play together - the comaraderie in an ensemble or band mirrors real life at its finest. And, from a libertarian's standpoint, the emphasis on musical merit and the competition would quickly weed out the incompetents who could be sent to special education where they could tackle simpler, more entertaining topics, like pre-calculus, torts, and shop.

So, Ms. Althouse, I applaud your intention, which is to streamline an American child's education so that he or she will study only those useful subjects and topics that make him exactly like you, an exemplar of American-ness, or American-osity, or - well, you know what I mean. But seriously, what you are suggesting isn't useful enough. You're wasting time insisting that an 8th grader read Gibbon and Blackstone, even if that is an improvement over Salinger and Flaubert. No. You want the schools to be useful and only useful, there is one subject and only one subject to teach. Music.

Hey, it worked for me.


ht, Chad Orzel.