One ancient test for the canonical remains fiercely valid; unless it demands rereading, the work does not qualify. The inevitable analogue is the erotic one. If you are Don Giovanni and Leporello keeps the list, one brief encounter will suffice.
Harold Bloom – The Western Canon (page 29)
For those of you who don’t know, in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni Leporello sings a really funny aria (sometimes called the “Catalogue Aria’) explaining the book in which he keeps track of all of Don Giovanni’s “encounters.”
So how do we apply Leporello and Don Giovanni to education? In Texas we are told we must cover the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). Each class has a list (usually a very long list) of things that should be covered for that class throughout the year. I think this is ok in itself. But notice how that duty is often performed.
The TEKS for many become the curricula. Each day, like Don Giovanni, we conquer a few more TEKS, Leporello records them in the book, and that’s that. In all fairness, before the test all the TEKS are (frantically) reviewed.
But education shouldn’t be presented to the student as a set of skills he must master one after the other (which it will certainly appear to be if that is the guide the teacher uses). This is disintegration with a vengeance, the opposite of what education should try to achieve. Education should in the end give the student a sense of knowing an integrated whole so that he “gets” science, “gets” math, “gets” writing, etc. That sense of getting a subject isn’t achieved once he gets a certain percentage of TEKS mastered, it is achieved when he understands the subject as a whole, as a one.
This is nothing new. Giambattista Vico back in the early 1700s uses the term “barbarism” to refer to the unnatural fragmentation of knowledge. According to Vico, the “arts and sciences, all of which in the past were embraced by philosophy and animated by it with a unitary spirit, are, in our day, unnaturally separated and disjointed.” I daresay since Vico’s time this has become worse.
Creating lessons rich in interesting content that integrate the “many” into the “whole” with opportunities to prompt critical and creative thinking should be first priority. If you are teaching science, math, writing, or history, design the course such that the student has the best opportunity to “get” science, math, writing, or history. Then, if you find you have missed some TEKS, find a way to incorporate them. Don’t be a barbarian. Don’t be a Leporello.