Saturday, June 24, 2017

Preserve Knowledge Through Books and Time Value

Those of a certain age, remember knowledge as a tempting marketplace housed in books, in second hand bookstores filled to overflowing with every imaginable subject just "begging" to be read. This morning I recalled one Houston bookstore from three decades earlier, which had a good sized room solely dedicated to history books. Just history books!

Today, knowledge has become even more important in the marketplace. Nevertheless, our basic time scarcity has not changed one iota, even as digital information further expands the choices for our focused attention. Hence making room in one's life for the pleasures of the printed page, not to mention pursuing intellectual challenges with others on personal terms, means even more difficult choices are involved.

Perhaps these claims on our time, help to explain the occasional struggles re what "should" be included in high school history books, for instance. Some worry: might required exposure to a subject be the only storyline some students encounter, especially if their interests lie elsewhere? As to that requirement aspect of learning: It's one thing to argue for or against interpretations, via one's own written format which others can support as they wish. But what happens when these arguments instead become part of a roster of educational expectations?

Consequently, multiple threads of interpretation and persuasion end up mercilessly jumbled, in a single, somewhat incoherent source. Among other problems, these combinations don't readily tell convincing stories, which students can later recall. For Texas in particular, many subjects tend to end up as ideological battles. Recently, the local news asked in their "question of the day": should LGBTQ history, be taught in Houston public schools? Indeed: Doing so could be difficult, since Texas has laws on the books which prevent teachers from "discussing gay and transgender issues in a positive light".

Jumbling multiple fragments of history together in a single required book, is in many respects a disservice to all concerned. The integrity of historical thought is lost, for different historical strands need to be discovered via personal means. The marketplace for intellectual challenges, needs better representation on terms that are far more spontaneous than what is occurring today. Yesterday's local bookstores once provided the story lines that contributed to critical thinking - not to mention lasting connections to individual authors who could made subjects far more interesting than the ways they were often presented in classrooms.

Indeed, many classrooms are experiencing limits, in their ability to make knowledge vital for the course of our daily lives. Even the subjects which do make their way into today's history books, may be passed over by teachers who are already pressed for time. When education is expected to be take place mostly through the efforts of credentialed teachers, the preservation of knowledge as challenge and shared critical thought, can be lost.

Unfortunately, the association of formal education with the value of books, is also not as strong as one might suppose. Over the course of my lifetime, the homes I've visited which contained a wide range of books, sometimes belonged to individuals without college degrees. And while visiting homes of those with college degrees, often they contained no books in places which were obvious to their visitors.

Credentialed teachers cannot be expected to serve as a sole knowledge source for students, who need economic opportunities to explore subjects on more personal terms. Yet it's not the credential which is the problem, but rather, the misplaced expectations of many educational settings. Students especially should not be limited to subject matter which has become part of a societal minefield. And while much can be discovered or achieved online, it's shared dialogue that gives subject matter its most meaningful context. This is when it becomes possible, to pass the torch of knowledge to others in ways that can be measured and quantified.

In a recent and more spontaneous past, brick and mortar booksellers contributed to the marketplace of knowledge, even on the back roads and hidden places. Many a non fiction writer was discovered, and consequently supported, by those who simply loved to wander about far flung towns and communities to see what they could discover. And it wasn't just independent booksellers (often without college degrees) who offered options such as these. Many other store keepers who sold second hand goods, also maintained broad book selections to tempt the student of life.

Students need the ability to share their own subject interests with others, in settings that are also reinforced at an economic level. So many ideas and concepts which contribute to critical thinking, are the result of spontaneous interaction. Time arbitrage would provide new opportunities for experiential education, instead of a required format for economic access. Presently, the latter doesn't quite serve the purpose which it was built for. Everyone has the potential to be a torch for knowledge. It's time to free our desire to learn about the world, from the struggles over the curriculum of formal education.

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