Saturday, June 13, 2009

Another Week Another Year

My summer vacation started today. I still have to go back to the library salt mine for another week to finish up loose ends and to prep stuff for next year; however, that last week is always a relaxing time because I get a lot of planning done which is always fun. More than that, the end of each school year gives me an opportunity to look at what I do and how I can do it better next year. This year I had an odd thought about that.

Part of my professional development this year was to read more juvenile literature. I've been re-reading "The Count of Monte Christo" simply because I really enjoyed the book as a kid. I am constantly interested to see which books continue to be popular and which sort of fade away. This is one that I would have thought would fade away. It hasn't, students still read it despite its length and complexity if not as often as Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket.

Something struck me and made me think about my role as an educator while reading this book. That something was the prison education of Edmund Dantes. Sure, there are problems with a man living on gruel training himself into a top flight swordsman in a dungeon with only a stick to use as a sword but the other part of the education of Edmond Dantes is entirely believable. The priest had a few books that he used to teach Dantes to read and write. He also gave him a broad understanding of history, philosophy, science, rhetoric, aesthetics and mathematics. This is something that any educated person, with a few basic text should be able to do with a willing pupil and unlimited time. Despite the huge advances in technology since Napoleonic times the knowledge needed for living hasn't really changed that much. I don't need to know exactly how my computer works to use it. I really don't need any more knowledge of mathematics, science, biology or any other subject in my daily life than the average educated person in the 18th century. And, the things that separated a gentleman from a boor in the 18th century still separate polite from boorish company today. I'm not talking about wealth or power but manners, ethics and morality.

That thought made me ask, "What does it mean to be educated?" In a very real sense that is the theme of The Count of Monte Christo. After his escape Dantes has to learn the limits of vengeance, the cost of hatred, the necessity of justice, the power of forgiveness and the strength of love. This moral education was mainly theoretical instruction while he was in prison because to learn these lessons requires interaction with society and he didn't have that in prison. They are a set of lessons that Dantes could not complete until he escaped and almost didn't learn until it was too late.

Yet it was this moral theory taught to him by an imprisoned priest that allowed Dantes to return as more than a pirate and to overcome his lust for vengeance if only just barely.

This made me wonder. Is the essence of education basically intellectual or moral? I'm not sure I have an answer for that question. It is the question that will fill my summer as I prepare for the coming academic year. The answer will help to inform my selection of materials and how I interact with students in the coming years.

Am I a saint or merely a priest? Am I a Count or am I a priest? Do I believe because I know that I am believed in?

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who is a librarian not a priest.

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