9.156 books and learning

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Thu, 14 Sep 1995 19:47:49 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 156.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca> (45)
Subject: books and learning

> The model presented here is that of the teacher as the only source of
> knowledge or judgement. Students are seen as incapable of seeking
> knowledge/information on their own, or of evaluating what they find. May
> I remind the sender about... um... *books*?

It is always a pleasure to be reminded about books, and Dana Paramskas is
absolutely right that the teacher is not the only source of information nor
should they act as a filter. In my defense, I think we are closer than my
first note suggests. I was trying to say that people have always had
sources for self-learning and technology does not change the ability of
those who can learn without a teacher to get at information. Whether it is
books or the Internet from which one draws inspiration is not the
interesting question. The question is what does a teacher add or do? I
wanted to suggest that the teacher adds motivation and personalized
interaction. I have yet to see a technology that can do this, though
limited interaction is possible. I also believe that many students would
not read Plato without the motivation and interaction that a person
provides (be that person a friend or teacher.) That Plato can now be
accessed off the net doesn't motivate students any more than having his
works in the library. Thus I think we might agree that there are all sorts
of sources of information, but I am worried about where the motivation and
interaction will come from.

Dana Paramaskas's invocation of Plato is appropriate in this regard as his
_Phaedrus_ deals with this subject, though the technology in question is
the book. Socrates questions the ability of the book to actually engage a
reader in dialogue. While it is trendy to talk about our dialogue with
books Socrates wants to stress the way books are passive compared to a
caring philosopher who can ask questions tailored to the interlocutor's
condition. (The dialogue with books might better be described as a dialogue
with oneself through a book.) One reading of the history of the book is
that Plato/Socrates was wrong - the book turned out to much more effective
than they thought it would be (Plato's dialogues would be a case in point.)
But this ignores the institutions that we have, like universities and
libraries, that distribute, promote, critique, and provide interaction in
support of books. Perhaps Socrates was right that we still need people who
can confront others with questions that are appropriate, direct, and
tailored to the interlocutor. I agree with Dana that the teacher should
beware of acting as a filter for information, but we might agree that there
are other roles they can fill that are not yet threatened by technology.


Geoffrey Rockwell

PS. Having said that texts cannot address one directly I just received mail
from the Financial Post in the form of a mock newspaper with the headline:
"Geoffrey Rockwell Triumphs Once Again! ... Smart Hamilton resident will
starting daily delivery now!" I wonder what Socrates would have thought of