I can see that books are becoming retro. People don’t have stacks of them in their home anymore. And lately I’m seeing books as artifacts, like a globe that shows Africa smaller than the US. But I am convinced that it’s important for me to leave books laying around because I see, in hindsight, that my parents had a lot of influence on me based on the books they had around the house.
For example, I spent a lot of time reading the encyclopedia. But our edition was one of the last made by Britannica, and it was so complex, with an index of abstracts and then a reference to a page of an article in another volume that seemed, often, unrelated, so that actually, I was reading a print version of the Internet, and, no surprise, it got cumbersome very fast. So I turned to the shelf of Agatha Christie mysteries and wished I had found those before I blew through the shelf of Nancy Drews at the library.
Next to Agatha Christie, was Johnny Got His Gun. It took me some time before I realized that the guy was paralyzed from the Vietnam War. My family didn’t talk about the Vietnam War since we were rich and no one fought in it. So I sort of felt like I was reading something forbidden, and kept going, of course. Next to Johnny was The Sensuous Woman. I spent a lot of time on this book. And understood nothing. So I moved on to The Sensuous Man. There were directions to put a woman’s nipples in your mouth like you would an unpeeled grape. It took me a week just to figure out how to get the unpeeled grape to try it out.
I know you’re thinking that this is a homeschool blog, but the last conversation I had with our local school principal before I took my son out of school was that I thought it was okay to talk about pig sex in the classroom.
“But the pigs are having sex in front of my son all the time.”
“We don’t talk about that at school.”
One of the books I picked up, later on, as I made my way through the bookshelves, was Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. It’s hard to imagine a future from where you sit in junior high. But he made me think in new ways. The book was too long to actually read. And even now, as an adult, I can’t bear to read a book that is more than 350 pages. I just don’t get it. The novel Blindness was huge and great and memorable and it didn’t take 400 pages. So why do writers write so long?
I recently came across a quote from Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, it will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
I thought immediately of my life with my parents’ books. And then I thought, “How am I going to teach my kids to unlearn?”
The other day I was feeding my obsession with personality types, and I was reading about the difference between a perceiver and a judger. It’s clear to me that if you are a P you are likely to be willing to unlearn and if you are a J you are likely to be annoyed by the lack of order in unlearning. I see that it’s a proclivity to accept challenges to preconceived notions.
How do you teach kids to be wrong? I’m not sure. But I know that I read in the book Outliers that when people were learning pottery they learned faster if they made a pot each week instead of trying to make a great pot over many weeks. I took this to the extreme, of course: I had my son make a pot a week, but he’s young for pottery and sometimes the pot doesn’t work. And we throw it out.
And I have a feeling that learning to throw out something you spent a lot of energy working on is a piece of what Toffler means by learning how to unlearn and relearn. In hindsight, The Sensuous Woman is a great example of this, because eventually I had to throw it all out. Including the grapes.
Which makes me want to ask myself every day, “What can I unlearn today?” But then I think how I have my hands full unlearning sending kids to school. I’m not sure how much more I can unlearn right now. And that, probably, is exactly what Toffler was warning against: thinking we can put the brakes on the need to unlearn and relearn at high speeds.