Re: Re: Re: Education: Who Needs It?

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Posted by Rick Denney on December 31, 2001 at 13:20:15:

In Reply to: Re: Re: Education: Who Needs It? posted by js on December 30, 2001 at 22:59:24:

We have had this discussion before, of course. Music, like most arts, is a mixture of "artistic vision" and craft, enhanced to some extent by knowledge. Both vision and craft are required to achieve success, and both are enhanced by hard work and the sort of knowledge that, as you say, is worked out in the lonely practice room. Outstanding teachers in such fields need to be able to diagnose roadblocks and suggest strategies for eliminating them. Teachers need not be great performers in their own right to be able to do this. A great teacher can demonstrate with the playing of another great performer almost as easily as with himself, if he may better understand how to communicate the technique such that the student can assimilate it.

Great teachers of other skill-based activities are not necessarily great performers themselves. For example, few great golf teachers are or were top-ranked pros, and few great coaches were themselves great players. But they understand how to get from here to there, which means they can easily determine where "here" is, and where "where" should be, in addition to finding the path between them.

But there are subjects of study that in addition to vision and skill require (rather than merely being enhanced by) knowledge in great abundance. College is first and foremost the place to obtain knowledge. Doctors learn anatomy, biology, and chemistry in college, taught by anatomists, biologists, and chemists. Then they learn skills from practitioners in during their internship and residency. Musicians likewise learn music history, theory, and so on from historians and theorists, and then learn the skill they need from practitioners. No, a great performer in music does not need to know history or theory to be a great performer.

But a doctor or engineer needs to know anatomy or physics to be qualified at their work. In addition to this knowledge, they must also have the skills associated with their daily activities. To get an engineering license, for example, one must have a degree (or two) AND some years of documented, verified experience under the tutelage of a practitioner. That latter requirement cannot be met in college, which is why I could not be licensed as an engineer until four years after graduation.

Let's try a different profession, such as painting. Does an artist need to know history to be a great artist? Of course not. But if they don't want to make fools of themselves by proclaiming their work as being original when in fact it is just like another artist whom they didn't know and never studied, then a little art history is an enhancement.

Every great artist or musician I've ever know has collected that knowledge somehow or other. Some get it in college, and others get it on their own. But getting it is just a part of that hard work that you mentioned in the quotation that you've cited a couple of times today. Warren Deck, I'd be willing to bet, knows quite a lot about theory and history. On the other hand, college might be an efficient mechanism for getting that knowledge, even in music, though we agree that the resulting knowledge is no replacement for the vision and skill that are the hallmarks of a great performer.

So, let's conclude that every profession requires, in addition to drive and hard work (which I take as common to all top performers), three things: Knowledge, vision, and skill. But we can also conclude that different professions require different proportions of these, and place different levels of importance on each of them. And society, to ensure the public safety, may establish standards for these to ensure that those who practice professions that affect the public safety (such as doctors and engineers) are minimally competent to do so.

We agree that some professors opportunistically overstate the value of the knowledge component in order to sell their programs, and of course some people who lack discernment substitute the credentials of knowledge (i.e. degrees) with the credentials of vision and skill in an effort to increase the apparent value of their product. But that does not make the knowledge unimportant, nor does it mean that college isn't a useful (though not exclusive) place to get it.

Rick "thinking Joe might be missing the point about college--perhaps because college often misses the point about itself" Denney

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