“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”
I have taught Walt Whitman in several classes both at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA and at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, in traditional and adult classes.
This excerpt is from his introduction to the 1855 First Edition of Leaves of Grass.
Whitman was one of the greatest American poets and has been called the Bard of Democracy. He challenged the existing views of normalcy in the United States across a wide range of topics. We live in a time, perhaps even more than in the 1800s, when great pressure exists to conform to what society defines normalcy to be. I believe it is crucial for individuals to find out who they are, for what they have passions, and what they believe. With this thought in mind, I want to share this small excerpt:
“re-examine all you have been told at church or school or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem”
Whitman shattered the conventions of his time, and his admonition to us to question everything is as important today as it was in the mid-1800s.
Please, keep Whitman’s idea in mind, and question everything.
To continue this series, I wanted to invite major characters from British mythology. As before, I am imagining what it would be like to invite a few fictional characters to a dinner and have conversation with them.
(This is the first page of the extant original copy of Beowulf, written in Old English.)
Today’s guests are Beowulf, King Arthur, and Aragorn, all kings from British epics: Beowulf by an unknown poet, Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. These books range from the Dark Ages, circa the mid 800s to the Middle Ages, circa 1485 to the contemporary world in the mid 1900s. These texts are all important to me, both as a reader and as a teacher, because I have used all of these books in different college classes, primarily in the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. While covering a very long historical range, they all deal with the difficulties faced by leaders especially when the fate of their kingdoms rests in their decisions and actions.
(King Arthur and his knights)
For this entry, we would dine again at a traditional British pub, and we would be seated around a fairly large, wooden, round table. This seems appropriate, given the attendees.
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I would like to ask these three kings what it was like to lead soldiers actively into combat. Unlike the leaders of contemporary armies, they faced death directly with their fellow fighters. I would also ask them what they see the main responsibilities of leaders to be. I would also like to ask them if they consider fate to be real, or are they in control of their own destinies? Given the variation in optimism and pessimism that ranges in their attitudes, their approaches to facing the difficulties of life and death would be fascinating to explore.
I would certainly be curious to see how these three warrior kings spoke with each other. I think a checking of the swords at the door might be a very good idea.
I believe this topic to be important, so I wish to revisit it again.
I have previously written about the happiness of reading, a pleasure I hope everyone, or at least, most people experience. As I wrote before, I consider reading to be one of the main joys of life. Reading is one of the most essential and, at the same time, the most sublime of pleasures. Reading can take us places we have never been, tell us stories we have not known, and let us experience the lives of many other people.
In addition to the pleasures of reading, I also want to consider the benefits of reading. I think the first, and perhaps most obvious, value is that of education. Regardless of where the reading is done, or if it is for class or for self, all reading informs the reader in some way. As a Professor of English Literature, I teach many books in my courses at Lehigh University and the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College–and for me, this is one of the most fulfilling parts of my life, to share books and explore them with students.
While there are a myriad of ways to learn in life, reading still stands out as the primary, and most efficient, way of gaining information. (I am not in any way discounting the importance of learning through experience.) Readers can learn about areas of study that exist far outside of their particular areas of understanding or expertise. For example, I am a student of English literature, but I love reading books about quantum mechanics and the extraordinarily esoteric world of String Theory. I do not understand these ideas the way a physicist would, but I can still appreciate the ideas from books aimed at intelligent, non-specialist readers. Such reading allows the book lover to explore an almost unlimited range of ideas.
In addition to education, I think there is a second and equally important value to reading. I have read numerous articles recently about studies suggesting that people, who read, especially fiction, develop more empathy than those who do not read (Chiaet). The overall point of the results of this study, as well as others, is that people who read fiction tend to learn to identify with other human beings and their problems. This is what many of our parents taught to us when they said that we needed to learn to walk in the shoes of other people. It is the basic idea of trying to understand how other people think and feel. Even without these scientific studies, I would assert that fiction helps us to develop empathy.
What do you think about this? Do any of you have other suggestions about the benefits of reading? I would enjoy seeing your ideas.
Chiaet, Julianne. “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy.” Scientific
American.Com. October 4, 2013. Web.
I have asked about specific books and movies before in my blog, but I thought I would offer a different question this time. I have many authors whose work I both love and admire. Answering the question I am going to ask, therefore, is difficult for me, but it is fair that I answer before anyone else.
Who is one of your favorite authors?
To answer this question today, I will choose Stephen King.
I first started reading King with the novel Carrie, and I have read everything he has published since then. I hold Mr. King to be not only one of the most successful writers of our time, but also he is one of the best. I do believe that he will be remembered in the future as a great writer. Let me emphasize that I am now speaking as a member of the Academy, as a Professor of English Literature.
Among his absolute best works are The Stand, The Dark Tower Series, and Hearts in Atlantis.
I ask again: who is one of your favorite writers?
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