Roots of Chautauqua: radical to see and to understand

It takes one to know one; that is truism. To see, one must understand; to understand, one must see: that is truth. Or is it French? Or is it radical?

“Too often, ‘radical’ has been taken to be someone who is left-wing or using extreme means to accomplish reform,” said Jon Schmitz, Chautauqua archivist and historian. “But it really means someone going to the root of the matter to solve a problem.”

Schmitz will present “Four Radicals at Chautauqua: Fr. Edward McGlynn on the Single Tax, Arabella B. Buckley on Modernism in Religion, John Dewey on Education, Arnold Schoenberg and Serialism.”

Part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series, the presentation is at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ.

“My point is largely to suggest that radicalism is important, sometimes goes unnoticed and has been at Chautauqua,” he said. “I also believe that many things are wrongly described as radical, things that are really very status quo.”

Father McGlynn was the first Catholic to speak at Chautauqua. He had been involved in politics in New York City and was at one point defrocked for his activism.

Arabella Buckley was a well-known science writer.

“She believed it was necessary to shift the basis of faith from doctrinal faith to science,” Schmitz said.

She argued that nature was a demonstration of creation.

John Dewey introduced to education changes that went beyond technique and style. Traditional education allowed for a teacher to give a predetermined lesson with predetermined outcomes. Dewey proposed that teacher and student would discover truth as they worked through an experience together.

Schoenberg spent his first summer in the United States at Chautauqua. He taught composition. He had been ill. He never would have thought of himself as radical.

“He saw himself in the tradition of Brahms and believed that his atonal serialism was in such a tradition,” Schmitz said.

He wanted to free the composer from being trapped in tonality. And in the end, Schoenberg helped the Western ear gain a better understanding of tonality.

Archivist and historian. Historian and archivist. It takes one to know one, and Schmitz has it covered. Economics, religion, education, music — roots of Chautauqua, normal and radical to see and understand.