Sunday, June 1, 2008

NYT Op-Ed Art, Music, Literature, and Science

I'm working on another update but I saw this New York Times Op-Ed "Put a Little Science in Your Life" and thought I would say a few quick things about it. Brian Greene is the author of this piece and of the books "The Elegant Universe" and "The Fabric of the Cosmos." He sums up the problem with science pedagogy as follows, "We continually fail to activate rich opportunities for revealing the breathtaking vistas opened up by science, and instead focus on the need to gain competency with science’s underlying technical details." I like his explanation of " the vertical nature of science", that students must learn the foundations of scientific theories before they can move on to the exciting new breakthroughs. I agree that this is part of the reason that many students find science so boring.

In contrast, the humanities is not bound by such linearity. We now don't teach little kids English literature chronologically, starting with Homer, then Vergil, and so forth until the poem gives way to the novel and to modern authors. But The Odyssey and the Aeneid are introduced once students have a grasp of reading.

It's an apt comparison, the necessity and beauty of art and science. As a musician, I know what Greene meant when he said that this way of teaching science is like making a music student practice scales without performing the great masterpieces.

Earlier this evening I took a walk by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, very close to where I live. Inscribed on the marble facade of the hall was a quote from John F. Kennedy in which he linked the greatness of a nation to the fluorishing of art:
"The is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo Da Vinci, the age of Elizabeth was also the age of Shakespeare."

After reading this op-ed, I re-read the quote and realized that Da Vinci was also a scientist and so achievement in science too should be connected to achievement in art and state. The Smithsonian Institute was reluctant to accept Charles Freer's art collection because the institute initially wanted to focus on scientific knowledge. But the in end Freer's bequest became the Smithsonian's first art collection.

Greene writes, "Like a life without music, art or literature, a life without science is bereft of something that gives experience a rich and otherwise inaccessible dimension."

1 comment:

Marci said...

I really liked that article, it is sad but true. We live in a society that chooses to "believe" in science or not like it is a religion.