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Thoughts after reading this passage:

1. Are you a sophomore? I sure don’t want to be a sophomore. It could make for some interesting research to find out why there is a sophomore year in high school and college. Or maybe just knowing what “sophomore” means says something about those years in school?

2. This is pretty much the antithesis of popular pedagogy right now.

3. I don’t know what “abecedarian” means. I should look it up. Or, maybe you could look it up and let me know! Then we’ll both be smarter. Unless you knew already. Which could be an interesting story. How did you know what that word means?

Montaigne speaks of “an abecedarian ignorance that precedes knowledge, and a doctoral ignorance that comes after it.” The first is the ignorance of those who, not knowing their ABC’s, cannot have read at all. The second is the ignorance of those who have misread many books. They are, as Alexander Pope rightly calls them, bookful blockheads, ignorantly read. There have always been literate ignoramuses who have read too widely and not well. The Greeks had a name for such a mixture of learning and folly which might be applied to the bookish but poorly read of all ages. They are all sophomores. To avoid this error– the error of assuming that to be widely read and to be well-read are the same thing– we must consider a certain distinction in types of learning. This distinction has a significant bearing on the whole business of reading and its relation to education generally.

In the history of education, men have often distinguished between learning by instruction and learning by discovery. Instruction occurs when one person teaches another through speech or writing. We can, however gain knowledge without being taught. If this were not the case, and every teacher had to be taught what he in turn teaches others, there would be no beginning in the acquisition of knowledge. Hence, there must be discovery– the process of learning something by research, by investigation, or by reflection, without being taught.

Discovery stands to instruction as learning without a teacher stands to learning through the help of one. In both cases, the activity of learning goes on in the one who learns. It would be a mistake to suppose that discovery is active learning and instruction passive. There is no inactive learning, just as there is no inactive reading.

This is so true, in fact, that a better way to make the distinction clear is to call instruction “aided discovery”. Without going into learning theory as psychologists conceive it, it is obvious that teaching is a very special art, sharing withonly two other arts– agriculture and medicine– an exceptionally important characteristic. A doctor may do many things for his patient, but in the final analysis it is the patient himself who must get well– grow in health.The farmer does many things for his plants or animals, but in the final analysis it is they that must grow in size and excellence. Similarly, although the teacher may help his student in many ways, it is the student himself who must do the learning. Knowledge must grow in his mind if learning is to take place.

~Adler and Van Doren, How to Read a Book

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