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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And now hear this ...

A couple of years ago a visiting friend (who has asked to remain anonymous) played me a 'boot-leg' copy of a speech. As far as I could make out - the recording was an excerpt that was missing the beginning an the ending - the theme was was Liberal Education . It was a delightful lecture and I always wished we could have heard the whole thing. Unfortunately, we knew not where the speech was given nor, even more of a plight, who the speaker was ... such is the tragedy of poorly pirated material ;-) I even took a sentence or two from the speech, at random, and tried to Google it ... but nothing was found at that time. Last week I was gifted "The Philosophy of Religion", a course recorded by Professor John Hall for The Teaching Company (TTC). Impressed by the simple lucidity and tone of the very first of the 36 lectures), I searched for him on the internet and was delighted to be led to his homepage, which, in turn, led me to the Convocation Address delivered by him at The University of Richmond in 2005. And that's the one we'd heard! While I suggest that you download and read the entire lecture (it's only 3 pages long), along with the Collegian piece, I would like to quote one of its sections here with permission from Professor Hall.

Liberal Education and Impracticality One of the hallmarks of liberal education is that it is does not have immediate applications, results, or investment returns. This is what people mean when they say that it is impractical. But is liberal education really impractical? If the desired outcome of schooling is job-skill, then Strayer would be the model school. My wrestling with the ambiguities of Ionesco, studying the complexities of natural selection, trying to figure out what the American Civil War was really about, and exploring the mathematics of musical key transposition, are not likely to increase the GNP or lower the CPI overnight, if at all. On the other hand, my learning to keyboard data into a computer, take accurate telephone messages, keep a double-entry ledger, and figure profit margins, might. Indeed, I could measurably increase my disposable income simply by addressing envelopes at home in my spare time. (Many matchbook covers tell me so, and I believe them.) But who will write the programs for me to keyboard? Who will leave a message worth my taking down? Who will create the business that needs me to keep its books? Who will invent a product that will generate profits for me to calculate? Indeed, who will create something worthwhile to put in the envelopes I address? For individuals and their communities to thrive, people need to know more than the answers to familiar questions. They need to know what questions to ask, and that means that they need to be inventive enough to come up with new ones. They need to be able to make judgments without bright-line criteria, and that means that they must be able to wrestle with ambiguity without having a panic attack. They need to be able to make informed political decisions, and that means that they need to understand historical connections and the difference between appearance and reality. And they need to be able to function in a complex society that divides its labor, which means that they need to have some understanding of what everyone else is doing, even if they don’t have to do everything everyone else does themselves. And this is where a liberal education is most liberating. By freeing us from the expectation of an immediate payoff for each thing we learn or do, it opens us up to learn and do things that, while they may lack an immediate payoff, may have long-term potentials that we cannot even imagine in advance. This is why a highly placed corporate officer once told me “when we want worker bees, send us trained technicians; but when we want leadership send us people who have studied history and literature and science. We can train new hires to run the machinery if we need to; but we are not equipped to teach them how to use their minds.” So the “impracticality” of liberal education is not necessarily impractical at all. By allowing students to go beyond job training, it encourages them to stretch themselves to the absolute limit of their potentials and, unhampered by external or artificial constraints, to be flexible and to grow.
[I am not sure if the good professor will be willing to talk to a T2F audience in far away Pakistan via Skype - but I'd love for him to spend a few minutes with us during a Science Ka Adda evening on another topic he enjoys: Pseudoscience and the Paranormal.] I had, very recently, finished listening on my iPod - overflowing with several audiobooks and brilliant podcasts - to Professor Esposito delivering his balanced and very informative TTC lectures on Islam (as a part of The World's Great Religions series). The Philosophy of Religion course promises to be an even more enjoyable learning experience. The range of subjects that TTC courses cover is extremely vast. I wish Dr Atta ur Rahman (HEC) or Dr Naveed Malik (VU) would strike a deal with those guys and make several of these courses available locally at subsidized rates. I'd be willing to enroll, even at my age (and with the way I feel about educational institutions), in a college to take advantage of such a deal, if it was required. Postscript: Lest some of you worry, no, I am not about to be 'born again'. Religion has always been a subject of great interest to me and the current revival (in its worst forms, I might add) and its political impact, globally, has just re-kindled that. But next on my course list - if I can raise the money (HEC/VU are unlikely to even consider this one) - is Professor Greenberg's How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. 48 lectures of 45 minutes each. I can't stop drooling.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I thought listening to music is a sin as infered from the Quran and Hadith!

03 September, 2008 16:09

Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

I do pretty much find myself agreeing with the good professor. However, what they seem to be looking for, at least in our part of the world, in terms of 'leadership' material is a degree in business management from some specific insitutions, besides an inherent ability to talk a lot and build castles in the air.

04 September, 2008 01:52

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@anonymous (from another of your ilk)
... maybe its the other way around! ;-)

{now you know why I want to remain anon. but whats your excuse?}

05 September, 2008 19:46

Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry I didnt get you
so you think music is more important than the worship of Allah SWT ?

12 September, 2008 11:48

Blogger Zakintosh said...

Dear Anonymouses (here and everywhere!)

As the above two comments will show, your anonymity can get quite confusing. No one one knows which anonymous s/he would be considered responding to by an "@anonymous". Worse still, it would be difficult - and even more as threads get longer - to know if some of the comments are from the same 'anonymous' person or not. Here, we see the beginning of a conversation (such as it is) - unless I am totally confused - between two Anonymouses.

Ideally, you can still chicken out by using a pseudonym --- as long as you use it consistently, at least in the same thread!

Also, to the last commenter ("so you think music is more important than the worship of Allah SWT ?"): Who is this addressed to? One of the two other ones writing under the same non-identity? Or Sidhusaaheb? Or me?

12 September, 2008 13:01

Blogger Ali Kazim Gardezi said...


Do you pay for TTC lectures. Many of these are available on torrents websites :P

I know its piracy. I just wished these were cheap enough for me to buy :)

Waisay bhi as per hackers philosophy the human knowledge should be free.


15 March, 2011 14:05


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