Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Improving one's educational background

Say, a mature person, we'll say, someone of high intelligence and drive, knows English well and has just retired.  This person grew up in a place without schools.  He knows how to read and knows the ways of the world but would really like to get a background in what might be called the classics.  By the way, the movie "The First Grader" is a story quite like this situation.

It is fairly easy to ignore the fact, at least for some people, that a hunger for more knowledge and background, is a hunger in somebody, some particular person.  What appeals to that person matters.  No matter what, a project of reading and familiarization will be different for different explorers and result in different choices during the project and different sorts of changes.  So, all along the way, it is important for our explorer to stay in touch with himself, his reactions to a book, his connections made between that book, others and his life. For most people, the best results will be attained by meeting stories, experiences and information that surprises and adds to the person's views.  That isn't to say that there won't also be challenges and shocks, maybe disbelief followed by gradual and even reluctant broadening of the mind.  Some of the shocks may come from how clearly you find you do not wish to continue on in a given famous or respected book.

For people like me, generally impatient to get started on something that seems fun, it is best to start right in.  Pick a book.  Not so easy, you say?  Well, there are dozens of sources of suggestions. I put "important books" into Google and it immediately suggested the phrase "important books to read".  Click here to see the results of that search. (I embedded the link, which is about a paragraph long.)  I often recommend in thinking about one's desires and wishes, that one simply ask one's self for the answer.  So, what is a book that has often seemed classy to you, one that you have heard of but never actually looked at?

My friend had the intuition that "Walden or Life in the Woods" by Henry David Thoreau (1854) would be a good starter. I applaud the idea. I happen to have a special relation to that book, which I met in a junior high Scholastic book club sale and read as a college freshman.  It pays to follow an intuition.  It also pays to be alert for your reaction to that or any other book.  It also pays to withhold the decision to keep reading for at least 50 or so pages.  Some of the best experiences come days after a whole book has been read and digested.

If you recall a high school or other reading assignment that haunted you for its difficulty or lack of appeal, you might try giving the book another chance.  I have often had students who revisited books read much earlier and were surprised by the excellence they found this time through or even amazed that something that had seemed so revealing or moving now seemed so tame. An older explorer is not the same as a youngster, something some parts of the world's educational system have still to adjust to.

I have actually read few of the books usually recommended.  I have a preference for more popular science and mathematics that is typical of the average list of recommendations. Three that are on some lists that I did enjoy are Silas Marner, The Scarlet Letter, and Main Street.  All three are part of the 43,246 books available in many ebook formats, including Kindle, at the Gutenberg Project.  They are also available in most libraries.

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