Speaking of basic education (was I doing that?) …
Certain skills are fundamental to life. The obvious ones include ability to care for oneself and to perform basic chores, reading, writing, basic arithmetic, to which I would add secondary skills such as riding a bicycle, swimming, for most persons driving a car, reading a map, and skills such as that. For instance, even most persons who are not handymen know the difference between a hammer, a screwdriver, and a wrench, and how they are used. Almost everyone learns all of those things, but now and again we meet folks who drop through the cracks, persons who have missed one or more of the essentials. Recently I had an experience that demonstrated to me how much things have changed over the years in what so-called educated people know.
My wife and I went to a Phoenix Symphony Chamber Players concert at ASU. It was an invitational thing; certain alumni got free tickets and grub at a reception, and had only to listen to some blah-blah presented by the various deans of colleges beforehand. (Suzy got her bachelor’s at ASU and and an MBA from ASU West.) At this reception was a woman I see daily at the gym, but had never known. Suzy knows her well, though, and introduced us. The lady is dean of the school of business at ASU West.
In my mind, someone who is the dean of a school within a respected university, is viewed as an academic who one would assume to be well-rounded in education, having breadth of scope, regardless of that that person’s specialty — someone who probably knows art and history and music and science and is well-read.
During the intermission I talked with her. Knowing of my background she had a musical question to ask: “What’s the difference between a violin and a viola? And what are those bigger string instruments called?” I was happy to explain this to her in detail.
I’ll admit that having been raised by a violist-violinist-conductor father and being a musician myself, my own musical experience is enriched over most people’s. However, I recall from when I grew up that being able to identify musical instruments was something that almost everyone learned to do where I came from, regardless of whether he or she played music. Certainly anyone regarded as well-educated could do so. Sure, maybe a few whose orientation was not toward music might have trouble identifying a bassoon or explaining the difference between an oboe and an english horn. But isn’t knowing a violin from a viola like knowing the difference between a zebra and a giraffe? Or at least between a zebra and a horse?