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Preparing for Ecclesiastes

October 13, 2006’m thinking about the past a lot these days. The death of a friend who was only a few months older than me has a lot to do with this. The other factor that’s coming into play is that it’s 20 years since I went to University.

I remember that, in my youthful arrogance, I knew that I was going to do my final year dissertation on Richard Brautigan, and that coloured a lot of the courses I chose at Stirling University. I held to my passion, and duly left Stig having learned lots about 20th Century American Literature, and, thanks to Brautigan, the metaphysical poets.

Even back then, I had problems getting hold of the materials I needed for studying. Most of Brautigan’s books were out-of-print, and there was very little secondary reading available… talk about making things difficult for yourself! However, I persevered and was able to borrow or acquire by fair means or foul all of the texts I needed to write about Brautigan. After 4 years of studying, I like to think that there were few people who knew his writings as well as I did.

Fast forward (>>) 20 years, and out of curiosity, I dug out my dissertation. Roughly 16,000 words that I slaved over for what seemed like an eternity. I read it, and am impressed. I couldn’t write it now. I never seem to have the time to do the research I did back then — or so I thought. I googled Richard Brautigan’s name and got 490,000 hits (in 0.05 seconds). Wikipedia and Wikiquotes both have pages about him, and I can also buy his books on Amazon and, wonders of wonders, a CD of him reading his works… something I didn’t even know existed back in 1990.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, for me it illustrates just how far we’ve come in such a short time. The ease with which I was able to find research material and background information is a real joy… but I wonder how I can possibly convey that joy to my kids who are growing up with this information overflow being the norm. And then I realised that I can’t, and that I shouldn’t really be trying to.

L.P. Hartley’s famous phrase from The G0-Between comes back to haunt us:

The past is another country; they do things differently there…

For me, the past involved trudging to libraries in the rain, it meant waiting for rare texts to be flown around the world, it involved my brother photocopying an entire novel for me while he was working as a lab tech at Dundee Uni… the present is incredible, and what of the future? We, the educators, are the g0-between. We have our feet in the past, but have a responsibility to push our pupils into the future. The months of research and hunting down materials before I could write my dissertation have been replaced by 0.05 seconds of googling. 490,000 hits… I think that is phenomenal! And what does the future hold?

We are the bridge, the translator, the key to unlocking our pupils’ abilities. We have the benefit of knowledge and learning that has been shaped and formed by our experiences, and we also have a duty to enable our pupils to make the most of these incredible tools that are appearing.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2006 5:38 pm

    Hi there – I came across this posting when looking for cross-references to SETT and it set my mind running. I reflected on the incredible wealth of information that is now available at the click of a mouse / how much easier it would have been for me to do my own dissertation (Spontaneity in the work of Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock and Robert Frank). But the main comment that I wanted to make was that since reading this – I have dug up my collection of Brautigan books, and I have been enjoying re-reading them and luckily find their charm still intact! So thank you for a timely nudge, and I shall be enthusing to others about this increasingly obscure writer.

    Technorati Tags: SETT06, ScotLearnFest06, TeachMeet06

  2. November 12, 2006 9:10 pm

    Thanks for your kind comments…
    I must admit to a certain jealousy when I see the wealth of knowledge available to the pupils, students, learners today.

    It is easy to slip into cliche, but there is a certain truth in the thought that youth is wasted on the young.

    Anyway, I always wanted to finish a post with the word mayonnaise…

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