Thursday, June 23, 2011

what is a LIVING BOOK? part four

When you think of getting an education, what first comes to mind?  School?  And what associations do you make with school?  Desks?  Chalkboards (my age is showing)?  Teachers?  Textbooks?  When you think back to your own school days, whether recent or distant, I would be willing to bet that you can still conjure up the very smell of the place.

I bring up these questions simply to ask: what books do you remember reading?  Be honest, not just the illustrations on the covers.  Is it Foundations in Chemistry, People of Near and Distant Lands, Introduction to Algebra, History of America: Land of Freedom, The Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Empire, or Basics of English Grammar?  Perhaps you do remember To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Bear with me one more moment.  Can you tell me the important ideas out of these books?  What has stuck with you in the ensuing years?  Somehow we have been educated, haven't we?  We definitely spent time in institutions being "taught".  I don't have the courage to do the math to calculate the number of hours of my life that I have spent in schools, let alone the hours spent doing homework. Certainly we must have learned a great deal.  I have attempted in this series to describe living books.  Perhaps now I will be stating the obvious that textbooks are not living books.

Textbooks are written by experts who select the essential relevant facts, who form committees to compile, edit, and summarize, produce and organize well-illustrated materials for the education of the particular grade level of the targeted student audience.  Their goal is to inform, not to inspire.  Their purpose is to condense and simplify, not cultivate curiosity and expand a child's horizons.  These works endure for three, possibly five years of successive classes before being relegated to some dusty storeroom in the school basement to be followed by a new and improved edition.  These textbooks have served their purpose.  The material they present push us up the educational ladder to that all-important ultimate career.  We all read the assigned pages, take the test, close the book, and forget the information forever.  We are graded, get the job, grab the pay check, spend it, and live happily ever after.  Textbooks are the tools of the trade.

I will argue, to the death, that not a single textbook has changed our lives.  There were teachers who may have impressed us, some real living literature impacted us, and transformed our thinking.  The friends and experiences during our school days we will never forget.  These were the real forces of our education.  Life itself has been our true education.  Living books are about life.  You can sense the real live person who wrote it, you take their living thoughts into your own mind, and they stay with you for life.  They are also still found on bookcases in homes, in bookstores, on lists of "must reads," for thirty, one hundred, five hundred years.

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