Questions Questions

Monday, November 8th, 2010

I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. One: to prove that new media people read books and skim only when required. Two: for some probing into the question of youth and age. Three: because I like a window into cognitive changes over time.

Why? For one thing, the world in which Franklin grew up is both a fiction and our historical lineage, a thing against which to frame and compare ideas, such as public space and communication technology, and, sure, statements of value and political estimations of authenticity.

As kids growing up in El Paso, Texas, we had to study things like the pilgrims. We made hats, performed plays where native Americans met the English newcomers from overseas, and implanted the impressions of our little hands onto cold plaster and then turned those constructions into ash trays. Such images and the history were alien: we didn’t understand and couldn’t imagine ice storms, cold winters, and the stories of witch burnings and English hellfire. The southwest grew out of a totally different heritage than the one I experience as a fiction living in New England now, but it was Thanksgiving and who were we to question the ingrained, seasonal subjects whose symbols were dry, multi-colored corn ears and paintings of forest-surrounded picnics.

The kicker is this though. As a teacher, I wonder at what my students know and how they know it and what they should know or be able to do, whatever that may mean in context. I wonder, might they be able to read the Nicomachean Ethics at the age of twelve instead of “age-appropriate” matter. And what is the basis of “age-appropriateness” anyway: good science, logic, or fear? At the age of twelve, what did Benjamin Franklin read and how was he able to do it? What does twelve mean?

Why am I reading the bio? Because of that last question.


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