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Midweek Review

A liberal arts education



by Usvatte-aratchi

There has been an exchange of some notes on ‘a liberal arts education’ and these are further to them. Universities are an output of the society in which they grew, except in countries which were colonies of various imperial powers, where they were implants (a la Ralph Peiris) from metropolitan countries and have been hot house plants in the new hot and humid environments. Universities (universitas generale) started their life in the Middle Ages in Lombardy but institutions of ‘higher education’ have been universal in well settled societies from Japan and China in the East to Egypt and Mali in Africa. (Of education in pre-Columbian Americas, I know nothing).

In the 16th century education was liberated from two bondages: first from bondage to the Roman Catholic Church; second from bondage to scholasticism built on Aristotelean logic and syllogisms. So was born humanism in place of concentration on theology and God. So was born the new method, Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum (New Instrument) replacing Aristotle’s Organum coming from the -4th century, as the new paradigm of knowledge (a distinctly Kuhnian revolution). These brought back the pursuit of pagan Greek knowledge and their methods of inquiry, throwing out the trivium and the quadrivium of medieval university. The consequences were the enormous expansion of knowledge which continues to date when the book of nature was read using the language in which it is written: mathematics (Bacon). Hence, humanism and humanist education as well as a liberal arts education. It was a shift from God to man and from the study of texts to the study of man and nature. Education had been liberated from both. Humanism in earlier usages included both arts and sciences but as the 20th progressed, usage has tended to differentiate between the humanities and the sciences, to which now has been added technology, its meaning itself having shifted over time. (A striking instance is the rise of STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] in place of knowledge of languages, especially Greek and Latin.) Liberal Arts Colleges were where this new knowledge was pursued using Bacon’s Novum Organum. Dartmouth in New York, William and Mary in Massachusetts, Swarthmore in Pennsylvania and Pomona in California are outstanding examples. Oxford University was a collection of excellent liberal arts colleges (none of them competent to award degrees but capable of electing its own Fellows) comprising the university (which alone had authority to award degrees), until sciences began to become prominent. It was home of the courses that went to form the literae humaniores, where they studied not only Greek, Latin and Hebrew but also Greek and Roman Civilizations. In Cambridge, the equivalent was the Classical Tripos. In Britain in mid-19th century, after the appointment of the First Royal Commission on Oxford, the case for a liberal arts education was put forward strongly two Oxford scholars: John Henry Newman, a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church and Mark Pattison, rector of Lincoln. They saw the aim of a liberal arts education as that of cultivating the mind, as Mark Pattison put it, from where it could venture into whatever profession it wished. So learning the practice of law, medicine, engineering, architecture was built on a foundation of liberal arts education. A Medical Sciences Tripos was not established in Cambridge until 1966.

Sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) were added to the liberal arts curriculum much later, at the end of the 19th century but beginnings so far back as the 18th century. The first professor of science, appointed in 1758, was John Winthrop at Harvard College in New England, which is now the Liberal Arts College of Harvard University. It was a hard and long battle to establish science as a part of undergraduate education on both sides of the Atlantic. At Harvard, the moving figure for curriculum reform was President Charles Eliot and at Cornell, President Andrew White. There were many who opposed.

The new education was liberal in another sense. The new education liberated people from the craft guild system, where a man was trained to craft or a profession in some instances, in which he stayed for his life. Young men normally started working life as apprentices. A liberal arts education left a young man free to follow any profession he chose. Graduates from these universities learnt law, medicine, architecture and later management and other professions. In the US, a first degree is necessary even now to take up entrance examinations in professional schools. The most marked departure was in the US with the establishment of Land Grant colleges after the passage of the Morrill Acts. The immediate need was to apply scientific knowledge to the development of huge expanses of land opened as people moved west. The Federal Government granted large extents of land which could be used to set Agricultural and Machinery Colleges which formed the basis of many now first-rate State Colleges and universities. (The best known now is perhaps Texas A & M University in College Station.) At the same time the development of large business enterprises required new forms of knowledge to manage them. The two leading businesses were railways and telephones which developed features unknown heretofore. In 1889, Andrew Carnegie bitterly complained ‘While the college student has been learning a little about the barbarous and petty squabbles of a far distant past, … the future captain of industry is hotly engaged in the school of experience, obtaining the very knowledge required for his future triumphs’. Consequently, we have Kellogg Business School in Northwestern, Booth in Chicago and Sloan in MIT. So was born the need for business management schools, which now form a part of many universities. Among first rate universities in the West, only Princeton has withstood pressure to run business schools. Universities in Germany in the 19th century were closer to industry than anywhere else. Many good scholars both in Europe and the US did not fail to study or otherwise make themselves familiar with universities in Germany. After Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876 and named after a businessman, the idea of a German university caught on and the teaching of and research in the sciences became more acceptable in US. In ironic contrast, in 2018, a President of a university remarked on the absence of critical thinking because of the decay in education in liberal arts.

Liberty, to which liberal arts education contributed mightily, has been the central driving force in political and political thought in modern times. Of the three battle cry words of the French Revolution, none has persistently driven thought and action in politics as liberty. Equality among citizens is essential that everyone is at liberty. The abolition of slavery made all men (and women) free, though not equally. 800 or so millions of Chinese enjoyed greater liberty as they arose above abject poverty. Even casual observation would demonstrate the large mass of Chinese who travel overseas compared to the very few who did before 2000 and that is another signification of the greater liberty (opportunity to make choices) enjoyed by people of that country. The effort by successive governments in India to raise levels of living constitutes a massive contribution to liberty of individuals. In 2019 (2018?), Prime Minister Modi opened his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations with ‘We have built 112 million latrines in India’. In that achievement 112 households were liberated from the high risk of infectious bowel diseases. The trade union movement, a magnificent embodiment of fraternity that gave employees much desired greater power in bargaining with their employers won for them liberties that they never had enjoyed earlier.

The recent decline in their power in capitalist economies and their total impotence in communist economies has reduced the degree of liberty they enjoyed for about a century. Rising inequality in incomes and the ownership of wealth in all societies, including those in Russia and China is a march away from liberty. In university education, it is, among other things, a retreat from greater liberty. These features are best documented in the US and the UK. An American academic remarked recently that those educated and are in high income brackets have ‘stolen the dreams’ of young bright but poor students to go to elite schools and colleges, from where they could learn their way in the income and social ladder.

A most interesting experience in these matters is that of India. Under strict caste rules, untouchables, now called dalits had no access to conditions conducive to liberty. They were born into a caste and there was no escape from it. They had no access to education and were prescribed to do no other work than that of their parents. By tradition a chamar remained a chamar; and a mahar a mahar. Growth and industrialisation and access to education have liberated many in these castes to participate in the larger society as equals. Some who belong in lowest untouchable castes have achieved high success in many fields, but only too few. Perhaps, the best known is a mahar B. R. Ambedkar, who went on to write the constitution of the Republic of India. The present President of India is another. Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies of industrialisation and state education contributed to bring about these changes. They are continuing, though not without huge setbacks. The spread of the knowledge of English has helped these processes very much, though that knowledge has become a marker of a ‘new caste’, though not prescriptive. In contrast, some knowledge of Samskrt which was a prescriptive privilege of Brahmins set apart other castes beyond the pale of higher learning. Learning English has been way forward to liberty for people in scheduled castes.

Universities, the world over, have been avenues through which poor but talented students have sought education that led to higher paid professions and higher income and better social recognition. We read often about sizars in medieval Cambridge where a boy could become sizar to a Fellow and perform menial work in the college and over the years graduate and even be elected a Fellow. Thomas Nash (1567-1601) was a sizar at St. John’s. The land-owning gentry in 17th century England (e. g. Thockmortons of Gloucester), not infrequently, paid for bright boys to be educated at university. Several of the brightest Puritan preachers were boys who came to Cambridge in this fashion. A variant of this that one reads of is in Nigeria, where a whole village would put together their resources for a young man to go to Ibadan. There are poignant stories about poor Chinese students who became scholars living hand to mouth and even entered imperial service, after competing successfully in examinations. The gurukula system in India exhibits similar features. But in general university education has been a privilege enjoyed by the rich until the 20th century. Government policies to support education at all levels and the development of capital markets to finance higher education have all changed the picture totally.

In the 20th Century despite widespread education in liberal arts in Western Europe there did spring up terrible tyrannical despotisms: in Spain, in Italy, in Germany and in the USSR. Later in the century, there was Pol Pot in Cambodia, Sargent Idi Amin in Uganda, Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, Emperor Bokassa of CAR and several more West Asia and in other countries. It is not unlikely that Covid-19 will not be the only persistent pestilence that will plague us in the 21st century.

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Midweek Review

‘Professor of English Language Teaching’



It is a pleasure to be here today, when the University resumes postgraduate work in English and Education which we first embarked on over 20 years ago. The presence of a Professor on English Language Teaching from Kelaniya makes clear that the concept has now been mainstreamed, which is a cause for great satisfaction.

Twenty years ago, this was not the case. Our initiative was looked at askance, as indeed was the initiative which Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare engaged in as UGC Chairman to make degrees in English more widely available. Those were the days in which the three established Departments of English in the University system, at Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, were unbelievably conservative. Their contempt for his efforts made him turn to Sri Jayewardenepura, which did not even have a Department of English then and only offered it as one amongst three subjects for a General Degree.

Ironically, the most dogmatic defence of this exclusivity came from Colombo, where the pioneer in English teaching had been Prof. Chitra Wickramasuriya, whose expertise was, in fact, in English teaching. But her successor, when I tried to suggest reforms, told me proudly that their graduates could go on to do postgraduate degrees at Cambridge. I suppose that, for generations brought up on idolization of E. F. C. Ludowyke, that was the acme of intellectual achievement.

I should note that the sort of idealization of Ludowyke, the then academic establishment engaged in was unfair to a very broadminded man. It was the Kelaniya establishment that claimed that he ‘maintained high standards, but was rarefied and Eurocentric and had an inhibiting effect on creative writing’. This was quite preposterous coming from someone who removed all Sri Lankan and other post-colonial writing from an Advanced Level English syllabus. That syllabus, I should mention, began with Jacobean poetry about the cherry-cheeked charms of Englishwomen. And such a characterization of Ludowyke totally ignored his roots in Sri Lanka, his work in drama which helped Sarachchandra so much, and his writing including ‘Those Long Afternoons’, which I am delighted that a former Sabaragamuwa student, C K Jayanetti, hopes to resurrect.

I have gone at some length into the situation in the nineties because I notice that your syllabus includes in the very first semester study of ‘Paradigms in Sri Lankan English Education’. This is an excellent idea, something which we did not have in our long-ago syllabus. But that was perhaps understandable since there was little to study then except a history of increasing exclusivity, and a betrayal of the excuse for getting the additional funding those English Departments received. They claimed to be developing teachers of English for the nation; complete nonsense, since those who were knowledgeable about cherries ripening in a face were not likely to move to rural areas in Sri Lanka to teach English. It was left to the products of Aluwihare’s initiative to undertake that task.

Another absurdity of that period, which seems so far away now, was resistance to training for teaching within the university system. When I restarted English medium education in the state system in Sri Lanka, in 2001, and realized what an uphill struggle it was to find competent teachers, I wrote to all the universities asking that they introduce modules in teacher training. I met condign refusal from all except, I should note with continuing gratitude, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where Paru Nagasunderam introduced it for the external degree. When I started that degree, I had taken a leaf out of Kelaniya’s book and, in addition to English Literature and English Language, taught as two separate subjects given the language development needs of students, made the third subject Classics. But in time I realized that was not at all useful. Thankfully, that left a hole which ELT filled admirably at the turn of the century.

The title of your keynote speaker today, Professor of English Language Teaching, is clear evidence of how far we have come from those distant days, and how thankful we should be that a new generation of practical academics such as her and Dinali Fernando at Kelaniya, Chitra Jayatilleke and Madhubhashini Ratnayake at USJP and the lively lot at the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University are now making the running. I hope Sabaragamuwa under its current team will once again take its former place at the forefront of innovation.

To get back to your curriculum, I have been asked to teach for the paper on Advanced Reading and Writing in English. I worried about this at first since it is a very long time since I have taught, and I feel the old energy and enthusiasm are rapidly fading. But having seen the care with which the syllabus has been designed, I thought I should try to revive my flagging capabilities.

However, I have suggested that the university prescribe a textbook for this course since I think it is essential, if the rounded reading prescribed is to be done, that students should have ready access to a range of material. One of the reasons I began while at the British Council an intensive programme of publications was that students did not read round their texts. If a novel was prescribed, they read that novel and nothing more. If particular poems were prescribed, they read those poems and nothing more. This was especially damaging in the latter case since the more one read of any poet the more one understood what he was expressing.

Though given the short notice I could not prepare anything, I remembered a series of school textbooks I had been asked to prepare about 15 years ago by International Book House for what were termed international schools offering the local syllabus in the English medium. Obviously, the appalling textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education in those days for the rather primitive English syllabus were unsuitable for students with more advanced English. So, I put together more sophisticated readers which proved popular. I was heartened too by a very positive review of these by Dinali Fernando, now at Kelaniya, whose approach to students has always been both sympathetic and practical.

I hope then that, in addition to the texts from the book that I will discuss, students will read other texts in the book. In addition to poetry and fiction the book has texts on politics and history and law and international relations, about which one would hope postgraduate students would want some basic understanding.

Similarly, I do hope whoever teaches about Paradigms in English Education will prescribe a textbook so that students will understand more about what has been going on. Unfortunately, there has been little published about this but at least some students will I think benefit from my book on English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? which Godage & Bros brought out in 2016. And then there was Lakmahal Justified: Taking English to the People, which came out in 2018, though that covers other topics too and only particular chapters will be relevant.

The former book is bulky but I believe it is entertaining as well. So, to conclude I will quote from it, to show what should not be done in Education and English. For instance, it is heartening that you are concerned with ‘social integration, co-existence and intercultural harmony’ and that you want to encourage ‘sensitivity towards different cultural and linguistic identities’. But for heaven’s sake do not do it as the NIE did several years ago in exaggerating differences. In those dark days, they produced textbooks which declared that ‘Muslims are better known as heavy eaters and have introduced many tasty dishes to the country. Watalappam and Buriani are some of these dishes. A distinguished feature of the Muslims is that they sit on the floor and eat food from a single plate to show their brotherhood. They eat string hoppers and hoppers for breakfast. They have rice and curry for lunch and dinner.’ The Sinhalese have ‘three hearty meals a day’ and ‘The ladies wear the saree with a difference and it is called the Kandyan saree’. Conversely, the Tamils ‘who live mainly in the northern and eastern provinces … speak the Tamil language with a heavy accent’ and ‘are a close-knit group with a heavy cultural background’’.

And for heaven’s sake do not train teachers by telling them that ‘Still the traditional ‘Transmission’ and the ‘Transaction’ roles are prevalent in the classroom. Due to the adverse standard of the school leavers, it has become necessary to develop the learning-teaching process. In the ‘Transmission’ role, the student is considered as someone who does not know anything and the teacher transmits knowledge to him or her. This inhibits the development of the student.

In the ‘Transaction’ role, the dialogue that the teacher starts with the students is the initial stage of this (whatever this might be). Thereafter, from the teacher to the class and from the class to the teacher, ideas flow and interaction between student-student too starts afterwards and turns into a dialogue. From known to unknown, simple to complex are initiated and for this to happen, the teacher starts questioning.

And while avoiding such tedious jargon, please make sure their command of the language is better than to produce sentences such as these, or what was seen in an English text, again thankfully several years ago:

Read the story …

Hello! We are going to the zoo. “Do you like to join us” asked Sylvia. “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to the library now. Anyway, have a nice time” bye.

So Syliva went to the zoo with her parents. At the entrance her father bought tickets. First, they went to see the monkeys

She looked at a monkey. It made a funny face and started swinging Sylvia shouted: “He is swinging look now it is hanging from its tail its marvellous”

“Monkey usually do that’

I do hope your students will not hang from their tails as these monkeys do.

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Midweek Review

Little known composers of classical super-hits



By Satyajith Andradi


Quite understandably, the world of classical music is dominated by the brand images of great composers. It is their compositions that we very often hear. Further, it is their life histories that we get to know. In fact, loads of information associated with great names starting with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has become second nature to classical music aficionados. The classical music industry, comprising impresarios, music publishers, record companies, broadcasters, critics, and scholars, not to mention composers and performers, is largely responsible for this. However, it so happens that classical music lovers are from time to time pleasantly struck by the irresistible charm and beauty of classical pieces, the origins of which are little known, if not through and through obscure. Intriguingly, most of these musical gems happen to be classical super – hits. This article attempts to present some of these famous pieces and their little-known composers.


Pachelbel’s Canon in D

The highly popular piece known as Pachelbel’s Canon in D constitutes the first part of Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon and Gigue in D major for three violins and basso continuo’. The second part of the work, namely the gigue, is rarely performed. Pachelbel was a German organist and composer. He was born in Nuremburg in 1653, and was held in high esteem during his life time. He held many important musical posts including that of organist of the famed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He was the teacher of Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. Bach held Pachelbel in high regard, and used his compositions as models during his formative years as a composer. Pachelbel died in Nuremburg in 1706.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is an intricate piece of contrapuntal music. The melodic phrases played by one voice are strictly imitated by the other voices. Whilst the basso continuo constitutes a basso ostinato, the other three voices subject the original tune to tasteful variation. Although the canon was written for three violins and continuo, its immense popularity has resulted in the adoption of the piece to numerous other combinations of instruments. The music is intensely soothing and uplifting. Understandingly, it is widely played at joyous functions such as weddings.


Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary

The hugely popular piece known as ‘Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary’ appeared originally as ‘ The Prince of Denmark’s March’ in Jeremiah Clarke’s book ‘ Choice lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet’, which was published in 1700 ( Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music ). Sometimes, it has also been erroneously attributed to England’s greatest composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695 ) and called ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (Percy A. Scholes ; Oxford Companion to Music). This brilliant composition is often played at joyous occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. Needless to say, it is a piece of processional music, par excellence. As its name suggests, it is probably best suited for solo trumpet and organ. However, it is often played for different combinations of instruments, with or without solo trumpet. It was composed by the English composer and organist Jeremiah Clarke.

Jeremiah Clarke was born in London in 1670. He was, like his elder contemporary Pachelbel, a musician of great repute during his time, and held important musical posts. He was the organist of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the composer of the Theatre Royal. He died in London in 1707 due to self – inflicted gun – shot injuries, supposedly resulting from a failed love affair.


Albinoni’s Adagio

The full title of the hugely famous piece known as ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ is ‘Adagio for organ and strings in G minor’. However, due to its enormous popularity, the piece has been arranged for numerous combinations of instruments. It is also rendered as an organ solo. The composition, which epitomizes pathos, is structured as a chaconne with a brooding bass, which reminds of the inevitability and ever presence of death. Nonetheless, there is no trace of despondency in this ethereal music. On the contrary, its intense euphony transcends the feeling of death and calms the soul. The composition has been attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1750), who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. However, the authorship of the work is shrouded in mystery. Michael Kennedy notes: “The popular Adagio for organ and strings in G minor owes very little to Albinoni, having been constructed from a MS fragment by the twentieth century Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, whose copyright it is” (Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music).


Boccherini’s Minuet

The classical super-hit known as ‘Boccherini’s Minuet’ is quite different from ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’. It is a short piece of absolutely delightful music. It was composed by the Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini. It belongs to his string quintet in E major, Op. 13, No. 5. However, due to its immense popularity, the minuet is performed on different combinations of instruments.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, and an elder contemporary of Beethoven. He was a prolific composer. His music shows considerable affinity to that of Haydn. He lived in Madrid for a considerable part of his life, and was attached to the royal court of Spain as a chamber composer. Boccherini died in poverty in Madrid in 1805.

Like numerous other souls, I have found immense joy by listening to popular classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio and Boccherini’s Minuet. They have often helped me to unwind and get over the stresses of daily life. Intriguingly, such music has also made me wonder how our world would have been if the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert had never lived. Surely, the world would have been immeasurably poorer without them. However, in all probability, we would have still had Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio, and Boccherini’s Minuet, to cheer us up and uplift our spirits.

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Midweek Review

The Tax Payer and the Tough



By Lynn Ockersz

The tax owed by him to Caesar,

Leaves our retiree aghast…

How is he to foot this bill,

With the few rupees,

He has scraped together over the months,

In a shrinking savings account,

While the fires in his crumbling hearth,

Come to a sputtering halt?

But in the suave villa next door,

Stands a hulk in shiny black and white,

Over a Member of the August House,

Keeping an eagle eye,

Lest the Rep of great renown,

Be besieged by petitioners,

Crying out for respite,

From worries in a hand-to-mouth life,

But this thought our retiree horrifies:

Aren’t his hard-earned rupees,

Merely fattening Caesar and his cohorts?

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