One of things I became aware of as I got older was a melancholy nature, a sort of soft under-current of regret, about opportunities I passed up when I was younger. Some are rather trivial: why didn’t I learn golf when I could have more easily grooved my swing, or why didn’t I learn to play a musical instrument? Others are more serious: why didn’t I get to know my extended family more, why didn’t I take my education seriously, or why didn’t I participate in more activities where I could build up experiences and contacts that would help me later in life? For much of my life, and even today, I seemed to float through time and space oblivious to anything larger than my immediate surroundings. Looking back I wonder why I didn’t think about some of this a little sooner.
In college, this pattern continued. I managed to graduate from a liberal arts college with a degree in history and yet lacking a strong foundation in much of the cultural inheritance of Western Civilization or even modern American art and culture. Let me give you two examples:
– Poetry. I seem terribly ignorant of the history and practice of poetry. Oh sure I am familiar with the names of some poets and have even read a smattering of it. But I couldn’t really tell you why one poet is seen as better than another or how they relate to the history of the subject. I can enjoy poems when they speak to me intellectually or emotionally but I couldn’t offer much beyond that very subjective criteria.
– Classical music. Again, I really have no appreciation for or knowledge of this subject. I know a few composers and have some vague recollection of a few tunes but beyond that I am woefully undereducated. Who did what, when, and why is largely lost on me. In fact, I find most classical music annoying and unenjoyable. My ears haven’t been trained to understand and appreciate classical music.
I am not arguing that I should be an expert on these topics just that I have a passing understanding of their history and significance. Perhaps I am being elitist but shouldn’t a liberal arts education include this? Of course much of the responsibility falls to me for failing to take any courses beyond what was necessary to graduate. I wonder if this appreciation for “high” culture is dying because so few people are exposed to it, and given an appreciation of it, in high school and college?