10 mar. 2004

Language Log: What gets taught; what gets learned

I'm a regular reader of Language Log. To Geoffrey Pullum's list of things that should be taught in high-school I add my own seemingly whimsical but deeply serious curriculum for Freshman and Sophomore years in college. (I'm assuming they already have everything on Pullum's list.) My list owes something to Auden, I'm sure, but I don't have his essay in front of me. Mine is not specific to poets.

Basic poetics: Rudiments of scansion in English and at least one foreign language; fixed forms (sestina, pantoum, villanelle, Oulipian variations). Theories of metaphor. Avant-garde poetics 101.

Basic music theory: time signatures, basic knowledge of reading music; principles of ethnomusicology. Layman's knowledge of 12-tone composition and basic jazz forms.

Basic visual arts: ability to draw a convincing likeness of a human face; history of the cinema; recognition of architectural styles and artistic media.

Other arts: familiarity with at least one performing art (acting, dance).

Philosophy: knowledge of key philosophical concepts (empiricism, rationalism, nominalism, realism). Detailed study of Kant and Wittgenstein. Intellectual history from the enlightenment to postmodernism.

Ethnology: knowledge of the history of anthropology from Boas to Levi-Strauss and beyond. Comparative religions. Contemporary critiques of ethology.

Physics: recent developments in cosmology and theoretical physics understood in layman's terms, as far as that is possible.

Contemporary cognitive science: how does the brain work?

I'm sure I'm leaving things out. (Some on purpose, of course.) I take these things to be what every educated person should know at some minimal level. I'm not expecting everyone to be a talented musician or a philosopher. I'm weak in many of these areas myself. I'm also assuming they have a grasp of their own popular culture and that we don't need to teach it to them. I also assume they don't need to be taught to read realistic fiction.