Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What we become


"What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books".
-Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881)

Yes, Thomas Carlyle, that's certainly true, but more than what we read, what we become depends on what we do after all our teachers have finished with us. You can read the best, most informative, most important books in the world, just as you can have the best, most informative, most important teacher in your field, and you may still become nothing of consequence. Similarly, you may have the worst mentor in the world, and you can move beyond it (though it is often incredibly difficult). While Carlyle's self study may be an important first step in many fields, reading is not doing, and what we become has more to do with what we do with our book collection after we've read it.

Another quarrel - most books do not teach critical thinking skills. So a collection of books in lieu of a university, while seeming like a good idea on the surface, would be an education built on pretty shabby foundations if the books in the collection are say, trashy romance novels. Sometimes we need guidance to know which books to include in the collection, or how to read with a critical eye.

Still, however, a good mentor does not have to come from a University - If we're lucky perhaps, what we'll become is decent mentors for others, then our quotes can show up on someone else's website one day.

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