Of Books and Online Learning
Updated: Jun 19
According to Plato, Socrates argued against writing things down because people might
come to rely on the written records rather than on memory, and because personal conversation can flow and change more easily than a static text. Fortunately for us, Plato did not take his teacher’s advice. He wrote down dialogues between Socrates and his friends and passed them on to us so that we who live ages after, inhabiting distant shores and chattering in vulgar tongues, might somehow be drawn into those long silent conversations.
Others did the same, and thus was born a literary tradition heavily reliant on the book as its first distance learning technology.
Humans have overcome the problem of communicating across distances for millennia -- by means of beacon fires, smoke-signals, Inca string-writing, dispatches, letters, telegraph, newspapers, and the book. Yet over time, the justified veneration of the miracle of literature led to misconceptions about the place of the book in the world of liberal learning. The book is indeed a brilliant tool of a civilization’s efforts to pass its soul to other generations. But it is not a necessary cause of education. This is only to say that education would not become impossible without it.
This is so because of the abiding ingenuity of humans in sharing their thoughts and insights with others. A glorious thing in our hearts, it seems, we simply cannot keep to ourselves. From the first scratching of umber onto cave walls to the publishing of ancient manuscripts on the internet, we will ever find ways to share our greatest treasures with our seen and unseen friends. Even in times of extreme adversity, as when POWs in Vietnam tapped the Psalms from memory to each other in Morse Code, we find a way to transmit the content of our souls to others.
In the end, education is not the proximity of bodies, but the interactions of persons. It is an action among humans of transmitting insights and habits that can free us from the tyranny of the immediate needs, the unverified assertions, and the untouchable trends we will always encounter in the world.
By means of online learning, CLRC continues this tradition of humans finding ways to speak across continents, those lasting messages that must be shared.