Friday, January 16, 2009

Facts vs. Knowledge

So, this is the part that I was really going to post, when I posted that other long one about having fun.

This is from the Gateway to the Great Books, "A Letter to the Reader," written by Robert M. Hutchins, in 1963 (my own emphasis added to the quote below).

(page 7)
"Reading can be boring... The only thing that keeps reading from being boring is learning, the discovery of possible worlds.

It is of course possible to make learning boring. What has given learning a bad name is textbooks. This is not ordinarily the fault of the writers or publishers. There is a widespread impression that knowledge is facts. If education is the acquisition of knowledge, it must consist of the memorization of facts. Therefore textbooks must consist largely of lists of facts to be memorized. Add to this that examinations, which are often tests of the facts memorized, hang over the heads of teachers, pupils, and textbook writers alike, and you will understand that it is almost inevitable that textbooks must be boring.

Whatever claims can be made for textbooks, nobody ever ventured to suggest that they were inspiring. They are said to be accurate, or complete, or up-to-date. But the most flamboyant publisher will seldom go so far as to assert that they are interesting."

(I'm going to skip over part here and come back to it in the next entry to keep this one about facts vs. knowledge.)

(page 9)
"The curse of facts, combined with the curse of adjustment (the part I skipped over), makes learning boring...
...we may some day understand the role of facts in education. Clearly facts are not knowledge. We do not have knowledge until we have organization. A possible world is an organization of ideas and facts. The facts are made intelligible only through the organization. A telephone book is knowledge only in the most limited sense. Such sense as it has it acquired through its alphabetical organization.

A good many years ago the President of Columbia University and the President of the American Statistical Association announced simultaneously, but independently, that so many new facts were being discovered that it would be necessary to prolong adolescence at least until age 45 in order to pour them all into the students. These scholars would have been nearer the mark if they had said that so many new facts were being discovered that it was useless for the layman to try to learn them. What the citizen, not the specialist, has to do is to formulate some general ideas into which any new facts that me be discovered can fit. The question for the citizen is not, what are the latest discoveries in science? In order to answer that question he would have to devote all his time to the scientific journals, of which there are now (in 1963) 36,000. The question for the citizen is, how do I understand the latest scientific discoveries? He can answer this question if he understands what science is about and what the leading ideas in it are.

When I was going to school, I do not remember hearing any teacher say what any subject was about. In general, I was taught to get some facts into my head so that I could pass an examination and go on to the next course. I never quite understood why I was supposed to take the courses I took rather than some other courses. All I knew was that they were required for graduation, or for my major, or as a prerequisite to something else.
Some subjects are at first sight less attractive than others, because they employ languages that are special and sometimes repulsive...
When I was a boy, my father happened to remark to me that he hadn't liked arithmetic when he was my age. I had to make it a matter of filial devotion not to like it either. The result is that I have been permitted to glory in the possession of an 'unmathematical mind.' I know now, when it is too late, that, if I had been given some faint glimpse of what mathematics was about, my father's example, powerful as it was, could not have prevented me from understanding the fascination of mathematics.

In other words, I needed a proper introduction... The world of mathematics and science becomes intelligible, and then exciting, when presented by the great men who in these papers transmit their own excitement to the uninitiated."

3 Year-Old Wisdom

"Mom, laugh and then you'll be happy."

Just for the record, I wasn't sad or anything. I was just sitting at the table reading. He was watching "Little Einsteins" and having a good laugh. He wanted me to come and laugh with him.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are we having fun yet?

I was reading the Introduction of the 'Gateway to the Great Books' series, published in 1963 by Encyclopaedia Brtannica, Inc.
A wonderful friend from church gave me the Great Books of the Western World, when she moved out of state and she also gave me the Gateway to the Great Books and some other fun stuff. Anyway, I've been a little lost as to what to have my boys do for homeschooling. I don't want to use a pre-packaged curriculum, because that's too "conveyor-belt," but without a plan there is no order. Anyway, I thought, why not use this great series that's just sitting here?!

So, I picked up Volume 1 last night, oh it's "A Letter to the Reader,' not yet the Introduction. Anyway, it has some great things written here, that I'd like to share with the world (even if only 3 people read it, Thanks followers!)

It talks about people's objections to reading Great Books: "Too hard," "No time," "Too dull," "What good is it?"

It says they (the Editors) have no interest in manufacturing furniture to decorate my living room. These are a pretty set, (or rather they were before a couple of the bindings got bit by a dog.) Anyway, it goes on to say that we now have a
"...Fun Society, molded and supported by Technology, Affluence, and Advertising. The question now is not, 'Are you doing anything worthwhile, anything interesting or important?' The question is, 'Are you having any fun?' With all the gadgets, the aim of which is to provide comfort or amusement, and all the affluence that has made it possible to buy them, and all the advertising that urges us to do so, fun has become something bought with money, supplied by gadgets, and endorsed by advertising. If we aren't doing something that involves these elements and meets these requirements, we can't be having any fun.
Reading, which does not involve these elements or meet these rquirements, therefore cannot be any fun..."

It just makes me laugh how far technology has come since this was written 60's. We are probably way more inundated with advertising and our gadgets have gotten a lot cooler, and cheaper with our affluence (even with the recession).

The next paragraph says, "Today two objects consume our time: work and distraction. The same forces that have reduced the work of most men have increased their distractions. These distractions have now got to such a point that in addition to reorienting the culture and our attitude toward life they have made it almost impossible for us to keep our minds on something for more than half an hour. The uninterrupted half hour is a rare occurrrence. But the important thing is that keeping the mind on something for more than half an hour is an effort, and, if we are making an effort, we are not having any fun. Fun is identified with distraction - and the absence of any strain on the mind, or even on the body. The popularity of spectator sports, where thousands of people sit more or less inert and watch a few combat, shows we are not much more more disposed to get fun from physical than from mental exertion."

That makes me think of people participating in fun (like watching t.v. or watching sports, or even being at an amusement park) like the people in the field of poppies in The Wizard of Oz, just laying down, going to sleep. And that reminds me of the quote from Joe Versus the Volcano where Patricia says, "My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement."

The next paragraph talks about how reading takes effort and literacy rates.
He goes on to say,
"Perhaps I ought to tell you that I am not against fun. My quarrel is not with fun but with the current conception of it and of its role among the aims of life. My quarrel with the currrent conception of fun involves me in a quarrel about what it means to be human, what a human society is, and what is good for - or even interesting to - a human being and a human society. I am afraid I shall also have to make a few remarks about current conceptions of education and of leisure....
The trouble with fun is that it is boring. It is simply not possible to spend more than a certain number of hours, days, weeks, or years having fun. And when the fatigued funster looks back over what he has done, he can only sigh and recognize, too late, his stupidity.
Why is this so? Why must it be so? It is because of the kind of animals people are. It is against nature for a man to devote himself to occupations little different from those which might be enjoyed by a pig, a pigeon, or even a whale... Man is distinguished from the other animals by his mind, and the infinite capacity and variety thereof. As nobody can deny fun is important to man, so nobody can expect a uniform diet of fun (or bananas, or lettuce) to satisfy him.
Recreation, play, or fun is important. The reduction of drudgery and the opportunity for rest and relaxation it affords are among the greatest of the blessings technology has conferred on modern man. In my lifetime, the working week has been cut by a third and the working life has been shortened at both ends by the prohibition of child labor, the prolongation of education, and the provisions for retirement. But the time thus set free has been transferred, with almost mathematical exactitude, to the television set."

The next page and a half talk about how humans want to "know" or "understand" and how "...the most enduring human pleasure comes from discovery, [or learning], of possible worlds. It is delightful; and it is not too hard. Effort is required, but not much."

I believe it is an article by Adler that says, "Welcome to the pain of learning."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Now that we've counted down to a new year, I'm really counting down to our new arrival due in Feb. Just a little over a month to go now! It's amazing to think I was pregnant for more than half of last year and even more mind boggling to think that I've been pregnant almost every other year for the past 15 years! There was the occasional odd year where I wasn't, but that's a long time.

I think I'd rather think about something else now, like names. The possibilities are endless. And what a huge responsibility to give someone a name that they will use for their whole life! 'Course they can always choose a nickname for themselves if they don't like it, or legally change it if they REALLY don't like it, but hopefully most people like their names that were thought out with love.

Every time I blog, or think about blogging, I think of this quote from Joe Vs. the Volcano, where Joe says, "I have no interest in myself. I start thinking about myself, I get bored."

Maybe I should think of other things to write about than myself.

But, I did want to say that my family accomplished our goal to read the entire Book of Mormon in one year! Yay! We read the last chapter last night, after having a movie marathon all day, and before going to a party at church at night.
I think this year we need to work on consistency, reading every day. There were way too many days (or weeks) when we didn't read scriptures together.

Hope everyone has a great day to start this new year!