Part 3, Notes on “The Liberal Arts Tradition” by Clark and Jain – “Gymnastic and Music”

(Link to notes on previous chapter.) (Link to book.) (Notes on next chapter.)

Continuing through their PMGAPT framework, we come to gymnastic and music, completing the triple (with piety) that they believe is especially important early in childhood.  I did find the case made in this chapter a bit weaker, personally, especially toward the end.  “Maybe everything can be music, maybe science can be music!” sort of statements by which, I think, they meant that education in science can also help form the heart.  I don’t disagree with that, but in a world already starved for precise categories I do resist classifying science as any kind of music… anyway.

But they begin with gymnastic.  And this is interesting because, as they say, almost everyone in public education today sees sports as somewhere between an unnecessary, or even dangerous, distraction from the real purpose of schools, which is academics – what politician hasn’t complained about how much coaches are paid compared to teachers, after all?  But these authors make the case that since as Christians, we recognize that humans are a body/soul unity, gymnastic training is an essential part of the curriculum:

The failure on the part of some Christian classical schools to recognize this fact is not merely an educational failure; it is a failure to allow a full-orbed Christian anthropology… to direct our curriculum.

And then they made one comment I appreciated:

The whole vision for education in the classical tradition can be summarized in the proposition that education is directed at perfecting inherent human abilities.

We recently saw our first Cirque du Soleil performance (aerial acrobatics) – what makes something like that, or high-level sports, such a pleasure to watch?  I do think it is in part because we recognize that we are watching people who have taken the physical abilities of a human to the absolute peak of what is possible, and that is a pleasure to observe.  Excellence is rightly praised and enjoyed.

They conclude by talking about further moral and spiritual applications of gymnastic – if you are tired, for example, it is harder to read, so there is a mind/body unity that cannot be neglected.  And what about the Biblical example of fasting?  The point in fasting is not to lose weight, but rather a recognition that denying one physical desire can help train a human to deny other desires.

Then on to music…

They define music rather broadly, certainly to also include poetry, drama, and the fine arts.

Although musical education considers some of the same “subjects” as the liberal arts, it does so from the perspective of forming the heart, the sense of wonder, and the affections.

But what I especially appreciated from this section was the case that music can help “train the intuition” to recognize goodness and beauty (and their opposites) early in life when it might be difficult to state explicitly just what we are recognizing.  Quoting Plato’s Republic,

…he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.

And therefore to conclude, in their words,

Musical education is soul-craft: carried out properly it tunes the soul, and makes one receptive to truth and goodness.