Fiddling While Rome Learns
“Making sense of a chaotic world…”
While we experience a global pandemic, it’s a fitting time to discuss this topic. Chances are you’ve read other posts over the past several weeks that have attempted to do this: make sense of a chaotic world. Maybe some of them have turned out to help, and maybe some have increased your anxiety (for me, most often the latter). This topic has always seemed to be at the forefront of my mind (and presumably, yours since you’re reading this), and it’s been there long before COVID-19.
Within the last few months, and with each passing day, everything in the world began to look different. The impact of COVID-19 on education specifically, has brought the world to re-evaluate what we previously understood education to be. Zoom, webinars, blackboard, remote meetings; while these are not new, they were certainly not the norm for everyone. Now, a remote classroom is currently the only type of classroom. It’s all new and uncertain, which can feel chaotic.
Nevertheless, as I’ve personally attempted to make sense of our chaotic world, I’ve realized how the chaos highlights the importance of education and specifically a classical education. Living in a chaotic world highlights classical education’s most basic principles of science and art – and the relationship between the two.
I’m not a trained educator, and I’m by no means an expert in classical education. However, I am a product of it. I have distinct memories of my first run-in with classical education: a nervous little second grader, crying at the dining room table while attempting to memorize Bible verses, poems, and the Gettysburg Address for Friday tests. This first exposure to the ground-rules of knowledge, grammar, mathematics, music, logic; while difficult, provided a foundation for my continued growth.
Fast-forward two decades: I’ve earned a degree in Middle East Studies, I’ve completed my military service, and I’ve begun a career in a start-up company. As I’ve reflected on my experiences, what I see now is that the world has always been new, uncertain, and truly chaotic. But, my foundation in the basic principles of classical education enabled me to navigate it.
I’ve come to understand life and vocations as the continual balancing of the science and art sitting at the heart of classical education. Science provides the structures in which art can be created. Art is the way in which we choose to make sense of newness and uncertainty in the world.
My second-grade tears were the result of the struggle to learn the science: the basic elements of a word, musical notes in a scale, the construction of a sentence, the timeline of our history and those who came before us, the ways they constructed their sentences. This basic understanding of science, the structures, the processes, the laws, was my foundation. Within these frameworks, I could then create the art: the thoughts, the arguments, the ideas.
From my classical education came the ability to learn the structure of the problem and create a solution: learn the science and create the art.
It didn’t end in second grade. Through college I learned philosophy, history, politics, and music. With an inter-disciplinary approach, I crafted a thesis linking them all into an understanding of how hip-hop shapes cultures in the Middle East through similar mechanisms as it did in the Bronx, NY. Through my military career, I learned the effective range of weapons, how to structure a command, and use a radio. With an understanding of these capabilities, I crafted plans and performed actions I hoped were adaptable and flexible enough to withstand an ever-changing situation. Through my transition into a civilian career, I learned a new business lexicon, how to use productivity tools, and the form and function of my company’s product. With collaboration across our teams, I helped craft unique solutions to drive scalability and efficiency throughout the company. I’m humbled by the knowledge that this process will continue as the world presents new and uncertain challenges.
This balance between science and art shapes the way we perceive our world and grow in our vocations. Because the world will always feel chaotic, the need to learn new disciplines, structures, and science will always remain. It is with those building blocks of knowledge that we can create ideas, solve problems, and produce the art that will help us make sense of what is new and uncertain.
Classical education builds a foundation of knowledge and shows a rich history of ideas. Most importantly though, it teaches the process of life-long learning through a continual balancing of both science and art. And that is how we make sense of a chaotic world.
Learn the science. Create the art. Repeat.