3.58 unification of the liberal arts, cont. (132)

Tue, 23 May 89 20:31:45 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 58. Tuesday, 23 May 1989.

(1) Date: Mon, 22 May 89 23:33:33 EDT (88 lines)
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Whew... reunification of everything

(2) Date: Tue, 23 May 89 08:52:00 EDT (24 lines)
From: "Tom Benson 814-238-5277" <T3B@PSUVM.bitnet>
Subject: Re: 3.53 theory/praxis

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 22 May 89 23:33:33 EDT
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Whew... reunification of everything

Quite an ambitious task.

Let me see if I can even approach it.

A problem I see in some liberal arts education is that it has allowed
itself to identify the media of the past with the messages which were
communicated in those media. Today I believe we are displacing media
faster than ever before in history. This has placed great strain on
everyone, professionals and liberal arts majors ALIKE. It isn't JUST
that computers can generate graphical images of architecture so real
you can walk around inside them before they are ever constructed,
even as mere models, but that this capability has come upon us so
suddenly that it becomes really hard to adjust one's views of what
tools of the trade are needed to become an architect. While there
have been revolutions in literary media in the past, such as paper
replacing clay, or sheets of loose paper bound together replacing
scrolls, these came relatively slowly. Becoming skilled in the
creation of literary or artistic achievement has always depended in
part on mastering the medium in which one works. If the medium
changes, the skills needed to `speak' in that medium change as well.
Thus, we are faced with new challenges in mass media, in electronic
personal media, and in answering real questions as to what it is
currently appropriate to teach students about the media of the past.

I believe the answer will have to lie along two paths. One is that
mastery of media MUST be an integral part of preparation for the
future. Whether one wants to be a business major or a novelist, one
may need to know how to edit writing with a word processor. Whether
one wants to be a architect or a fashion designer, one may need to
master color graphics on a computer. These are the skills of the
trade of the future. Compromise on their mastery and one loses.

But just as importantly, the past needs to be taught in the context
of its media being the products of the engineering, science and
technology of their times. The skill of the artists and writers in
expressing universals of the human experience in those media MUST NOT
blind one to the reasons they selected the media in which they
worked. They selected them because they were at a given point in
history when those media were technologically possible and perhaps
even futuristic in their presentation potential. The future will be
different because older media often lose their edge in competition
with modern media. (Think about a trying to write a novel on scrolls
or clay tablets!). Trying to teach students to revere an older
medium because one knows the merit of the ideas that were presented
in that medium may involve false transference.

Business, just as literary development, changed in response to the
media available to conduct business. The same media used to write
great novels were used to generate ledgers and bookkeeping. The
typewriter changed things for BOTH great writers and business
correspondence. The electronic computer with word processing has
done the same today. If your literature and journalism majors aren't
using the same tools as their business student counterparts, they
aren't acting as their contemporaries. If literature majors
cannot perform the same access tasks as law students in their
respective literatures, then this is symptomatic of an
underappreciation of the merits of the ideas in literature
to lawyers and an underappreciation of the needs of literature
majors to be able to access their discipline's heritage.

So... what are my unifying principles. (1) Master the media of the
times in which you live. This should be done regardless of the your
field of work. (2) Revere the accomplishments of the past, but do
not confuse the media in which those accomplishments were made and
the nature of the accomplishments themselves. (Likewise, from the
`professional' side, do not see the progress made in the advancement
of theory as having come along through sheer feats of mental
brilliance. The people who made those theoretical advances struggled
against the limitations of the media of communication, presentation
and creation available to them in their times.)

A successful education prepares one to use the media of one's time to
say something worth saying. Lacking media skills, one must gain them
before one can make a contribution; lacking a knowledge of the ideas
known in the past, one is controlled by the medium rather than its
controller. The shallow technologist who brilliantly manipulates
the computer medium, but fails to understand why breaking into
other people's computers and destroying data is wrong, is no less
a problem than the liberal arts major who understands this but
then directs tirades against an unjust society that excludes humanists
because they are computer illiterate and takes refuge in the
media of the past. Both are failures of education which we must
revise the educational system to prevent.

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------31----
Date: Tue, 23 May 89 08:52:00 EDT
From: "Tom Benson 814-238-5277" <T3B@PSUVM.bitnet>
Subject: Re: 3.53 theory/praxis

Charles Ess asks about materials to support an inquiry into
theory/praxis in the liberal arts. I suggest contacting Bob Craig
at Temple University; he has written an interesting and influential
essay from the point of his discipline--communication/rhetoric--called
"Communication as a Practical Discipline." In addition, Bob was
co-chair of the 1989 Temple Conference on Discourse Analysis, this
year devoted specifically to the issue of theory/praxis in communication
studies. Though this work was grounded in the field of communication
studies and rhetoric, it might well be useful as a model for liberal
arts in general. The field of rhetorical studies has wrestled with
this question for 2000 years.

Bob is <V5161E@TEMPLEVM> (BITNET).

I hope you and your committee will report on your findings to

Tom Benson
Penn State University