Notes on “The Well-Educated Mind” by Susan Wide Bauer – Part Two

Page 18 “Secondary schools don’t typically train us how to read seriously, how to study…all that’s missing is training in the art of reading.” I really think it’s a lot more than that. Years of school have taught most people only that they don’t want to learn anything anymore. Starting too early and on subjects they are not interested in has trained people into believing that they are not capable of real education.

Taste, swallow, digest; find out facts, evaluate them, form your own opinion.” That’s all education really is. Why is that so difficult to understand? Because most people have had their instincts to learn drilled out of them. Children in our culture have not being given the chance to learn themselves at a young age. They’ve never been given the chance to explore and know what works best for them in sleeping, eating, and learning. They’ve been molded and shaped into what the previous generations were taught. And it’s getting worse over time because the each generation knows less and less about themselves and how to run their own lives.

I’m not too keen on the trivium method of education. It all seems so forced from the top down, especially on younger children.

Page 19 “It is impossible to analyze on a first reading: you have to grasp a book’s central ideas before you can evaluate them.” The first reading for me is always just a quick read through. I try not to make any judgments, I go with the flow of the book making a note in the margin or on a piece of paper as I read. My “second reading” is typically what I’m doing now, going back through my notes and writing out my thoughts from the time and adding to it what I’m thinking now that I’ve finished the book. I may read it again in the future, especially novels. I get so much more from a story when I put it down and read it again later. I find all the character building moments that I missed the last time.

Page 20 “Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet or refute the arguments of the speakers on the other side?” This was something we were all just commenting on while watching the “presidential” debates. They aren’t debates at all. Debates are people trying to communicate and understand each other. This was just a bunch of people arguing for entertainment purposes. It’s the same when we are reading things online and many times in group discussions. No one is listening to the other side of an argument, they are only waiting for their turn to make noise.

I would think that our senate and other statesmen would have better and more productive debates than ones we would have at our Thanksgiving dinners, but it looks as though that’s not the case.

Page 22 “The first task of self-education is not the reading of Plato, but the finding of thirty minutes in which you can devote yourself to thought, rather than activity.” That’s it in a nutshell! Years ago, I started with reading for thirty minutes in the morning over my cup of coffee instead of checking my mail or turning on the tv news. I’ve grown that to two hours to read and one to write and think, like I’m doing now. It’s slow and steady. I can typically read about three books a month which is a sight more than many! And I find the more I read, the more I can relate to people and ideas I find everywhere else. Even thought I think I’m not getting much out of a certain book, years later I’ll read or see something else and find my mind going back to it. Or I’ll read it again and find that I really understand much more than I did the last time.

Page 25 “When you gather data, you become informed. When you read, you develop wisdom.” And that doesn’t just mean books, in my opinion. You can do both with the same book, too! The first time you go through it, you’re gathering the data. When you go through it a second or third time, you’re really reading it and understanding what it is all about, gaining wisdom.

Page 35 Journalling! That’s what I’m doing here. Many of these books talk about creating a “commonplace” book, a book where you write notes about what you’re reading. I’ve tried it several times but I rarely go back and look over those notes to really make them stick in my mind. My process is a bit different but I believe it works well for me. I take a regular piece of copy paper and fold it into thirds like a pamphlet. I write the name of the book and my start date at the top and use it as a bookmark. Many of my books are too small to write real notes inside of and when I re-read them I find those notes distracting at times. Instead, I make a star next to an important passage and make note of the page number on my “book marker” with my thought about it. When I finish the book I make a file on my computer for that book and go back through those notes and write my thoughts out in a fuller form. I keep the paper in a file in my desk, kind of like a journal. I share my thoughts here in the hopes that I might encourage another reader out there to read the same book and share their thoughts as well.

Page 37 “The goal of classical self-education is this: not merely to “stuff” facts into your head, but to understand them. Incorporate them into your mental framework.” Sometimes, in my case, I’m just trying to remember that I read them at all!

Page 43 “When you first read through a book, don’t feel that you have to grasp completely every point that the writer is making.” I think that’s where a lot of people feel they fall short. They begin to read, don’t get it right away, and give up. I love reading groups where we are all reading the same book, though they are very hard to find in real life. I love hearing what someone else thinks of the book, what they discovered, how it changed them. It’s often very different from what I read. I remember reading “Little Britches” and being not very impressed by most of it. But then I heard a young man’s impression of it, and an older mother’s. My perception changed and I had to read it again with their eyes. It was a beautiful thing. I find similar points of view online through other people’s blogs. I only wish that more people were spending more time writing about what they read.

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