THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

No. 2, March 8, 2021

The Good

Kudos to those young men and women at the University of Chicago who are standing up to their professors and fellow students who want to silence them, which means to cancel their minds. The freedom to assemble and speak is the freedom to think.

They write:

As students at the University of Chicago, we affirm our university’s commitment to free inquiry and expression. Testing our ideas and confronting counterarguments is the only means through which we may arrive upon the truth. And this process can, and should, be uncomfortable. We demand not to be coddled. Embracing the experience of unfettered inquiry and free expression is precisely the point of these years of intense study: to rigorously confront and challenge our most deeply-held beliefs—and to emerge from the experience as more thoughtful, informed human beings.

This proclamation is simply outstanding. I support these students, and I endorse their statement 100%.

Check out the whole statement here.

While we’re talking about undergraduate education, I must say that I’m partial to the Lyceum Program run by the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism at Clemson University. Call me a partisan, but I do believe that the Lyceum Scholars Program is the most innovative and important undergraduate program in the United States today.

The Lyceum Program uses a Great Books approach to studying the history of freedom, capitalism, the American founding, and the principles of moral character. Lyceum students are required to take eight classes together as a cohort over their four years, including courses such as “Wisdom of the Ancients,” “Political Thought of the American Founding,” “American Political Thought,” “Political Theory of Capitalism,” and “Wisdom of the Moderns.” Despite being only six years old, the Lyceum received 652 applications last year from high school students in 42 states.

The most unique component of a Lyceum education is its Socratic Tutor program.  Each Lyceum Scholar is assigned a Socratic Tutor, who meets with his or her tutees every other week for an hour or so. The purpose of these meetings is twofold. First, Socratic Tutors help students translate theory into practice. In the Lyceum Program, Lyceum students don’t just read and talk about Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics or Cicero’s On Duties, but they also seek to translate the moral theories of these books into their lives here, now, and today. Second, Socratic Tutors engage students in conversations that challenge them to think seriously and deeply about the question of moral character generally speaking and their own moral characters in particular.

Here’s a nice piece on the Clemson Institute and its Lyceum Program.

If you know of any high school students who might be interested in the Lyceum Program, they can learn more about it here.

The Bad

The “Bad” category this week could just as easily be titled “Dumb and Dumber.” K-12 and higher education in the English-speaking world has lost its marbles.

No, the following article on education in the UK is NOT from the Babylon Bee satire site.  This is real, all-too-real.

The Ministry of Education in the United Kingdom has not only recently abandoned A-level and GCSE exams for optional papers, but students will now receive their grades based on their teachers’ “prediction of performance.” Teachers will also be free to use other metrics (e.g., homework assignments) to predict their students’ A-level results. To make matters worse, pupils’

predicted grades will only be awarded on the basis of what they have been taught. This means, for example, that a student who has only been taught half or a quarter of the syllabus in a GCSE or A-level will be given a grade based on how well their teacher believes they know that particular part of the course. 

As if all this weren’t crazy enough, students will be able to appeal their results. Now, you just might be thinking that this system is liable to corruption, but our British friends have found a way to keep the process honest and legitimate. As a safety check, they will consider complaints by “whistleblowers.”

As my friend, Jay Samons said to me recently: “What could go wrong?!?!?!”

You can read the archived article from the Daily Telegraph here.

Before you get too smug thinking that America’s education system is better than Britain’s, we’ve just learned that at one Baltimore high school, hundreds of students are failing and one student who has passed only three classes in four years is ranked near the top half of his graduating class with a 0.13 grade point average.

The school, which promoted the young man year after year from one grade to another, has decided that after four years, he can’t graduate after all, and he must start over as a freshman! It’s really quite disgraceful.

This story is wrong on so many levels (the student, his mother, and the school all deserve blame), and it highlights just some of the reasons as to why American K-12 education is imploding.

I don’t even know where to begin in commenting on this pathetic situation, so I’ll just stop thinking and writing about it and let you read the story yourself, which you can do here.

The Ugly

Here’s a fine article by David P. Goldman on an ugly development in the music world, which is very nicely summarized in the title: “Mediocrity’s Envy of Genius: The Dirty Secret of Cancel Culture.

Goldman’s article is about Professor Philip Ewell, a professor of music theory at Hunter College, whose claim to fame is to denounce the giants of the West’s classical tradition in music simply for their whiteness. Goldman’s article provides a link (I won’t) to Ewell’s incompetent and malicious performance of the fugue to Bach’s 5th Cello Suite.

As Goldman notes:

It is hard to find a single note in tune; it is the sort of butchery that would earn an aspiring high school musician a condescending pat on the shoulder and a suggestion that he switch to the triangle. No-one was allowed to tell Florence Foster Jenkins how awful she was because she was rich and connected; it is a complete mystery to me why no-one has had the courage to stop Prof. Ewell from humiliating himself in public. Unlike the deluded Mrs. Jenkins, Ewell surely knows that everyone is laughing at him behind his back. The work he has put into his performances shows that he wants to play well, but is condemned to sotto voce ridicule. . . .

The grudge that mediocrity bears against genius is the purest form of evil. Thomas Mann’s postwar reworking of the Faust legend tells of the failed composer Adrian Leverkuhn who, in the final phase of syphilitic dementia, has written a cacaphonous cantata “to take back Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.” Leverkuhn had made a deal with the Devil and suffers the consequences. If the Devil has any taste in music, he won’t be in the market for Ewell’s soul.

You can read Goldman’s article here.

Again, here’s a very good article on an odious development in America’s K-12 schools.

Christopher F. Rufo, writing at City Journal, tells the story of how fifth-graders at an elementary school in Philadelphia (The William D. Kelley School) were required to celebrate “black communism” and to simulate a Black Power rally in honor of Angela Davis, the former Black Panther and vice-presidential candidate of the Communist Party USA.

But there’s a problem: only three percent of sixth graders at The Kelley School are deemed proficient in math, and only nine percent are proficient in reading.

Rufo’s article demonstrates how and why the school has abandoned teaching minority children how to read, write, and calculate for a political education in communist activism.

You can read and be depressed here.

. . . and The Beautiful

If you actually had the courage to find your way to Professor Ewell’s awful performance of Bach’s 5th Cello Suite, you deserve a reward.

Here is Yo-Yo Ma playing the same piece:

This past week I discovered the incomparable Maria Callas. Where has she been my whole life?

Of course I’d heard of Miss Callas as a boy growing up but mostly because of her love affair with Aristotle Onassis. For the Millennials, Gen Xers and Zers among us, Callas was one of the great opera singers of the 20th century. Leonard Bernstein once referred to her as “the Bible of opera.”

Find a quiet, secluded place and let Miss Callas’s voice wash over your soul.  Here she sings Puccini’s “Un bel dì vedremo” from Madame Butterfly:

My Facebook friend Nehemiah Leftwich, who knows opera much better than I do, prefers Callas’s great rival Renata Tebaldi. Here, for the sake of comparison, is Tebaldi singing the same aria.

Which do you think is better?

In either case, we have two truly beautiful voices. Enjoy!

I’d like to thank all those people who sent me emails with some of their favorite music, paintings, and poetry.  Your recommendations were all beautiful, and I hope to share some of them going forward.

Don’t forget to submit your recommendations on “The Beautiful” at: redneckaesthetic@gmail.com.