“Acquaint yourself with your own ignorance.”
Isaac Watts, Improvement of the Mind
Quoted in The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
Every now and then, we should remind ourselves of the basics.
Though there are a lot of reasons for reading – to escape, to journey, to be entertained, to be amused… — one reason to read is to fill gaps in our knowledge. We read to learn stuff we do not yet know.
I recently discovered a book that reminded me of this: The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer. There are books to just read through nice and fast, and there are books to read slowly. I am enjoying reading this book slowly.
The author reminds us of the foundational three-stage process, first proposed by Aristotle. (So much of what we know comes from Aristotle). She reminds us that there are three “stages” in the education process.
Stage #1 – the grammar stage – You simply absorb information; you do not evaluate it.
Stage #2 – the logic stage – You analyze information, deciding “whether information is correct or incorrect, and make connections between cause and effect, historical events, scientific phenomena, words, and their meanings.”
Stage #3 – the rhetoric stage – You learn to express your “own opinions about the facts you have accumulated and evaluated. So the final years of education focus on elegant, articulate expression of opinion in speech and writing – the study of rhetoric.”
So, she writes:
“Learn facts; analyze them; express your opinion about them.”
If you think about the brilliant simplicity about this process, you see how we get into trouble. If you start analyzing and expressing your opinion before you fully know the information, you are skipping a rather major step.
This book provides a terrific reminder about what a well-educated mind is like.
And, back to the Isaac Watts quote, every time I read something and say to myself “I did not know that,” (which is plenty often!), the more I feel like I am acquainting myself with my own ignorance.