Thursday, May 31, 2012

Library, Books, Reading

Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal (Prestigious Children's Award for top book of the year) in 2009 for his book, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman had some interesting things to say about libraries, books, and reading. Gaiman grew up in England.

From the ages of 8-14, Gaiman noted that he haunted his local library during school holidays. He would get his parents to drop him off on the way to work and he would walk home when the library closed. Gaiman described his reading practices: "I read indiscriminately, delightedly, hungrily." Sometimes, literally hungrily, except when his father pack him lunches. He said when he became too hungry, he would "gulp his sandwiches as quickly as possible in the library park before diving back into the world of books and shelves."

Gaimon read all kinds of books, some which he would not re-read today. He "devoured" these books. He notes that "there were no bad stories: every story was new and glorious." He said when he read all the books from the children's section, he moved over to the adult section. He notes how helpful the librarians were to him: 
"The librarians responded to my enthusiasm. They found me books." They taught him about inter-library loan and ordered him books all over England. 

Gaimon closes his acceptance speech by trying to re-say what he really wanted to say in case it was missed.:

"Reading is important. Books are important. Librarians are important."

In our world of technology, we forget the importance of books and librarians. My mother took me to the library when I was little and I was allowed to read whatever caught my interest. We have tried to pass on this love of reading and learning to our children. When we connect a child with a book, we have done a great thing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Informed Learning and Hermione Part 2

2. "Informed Learning is Experienced as Sourcing Information to Meet a Learning Need."

This is something that Hermione does often. For example, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter is competing in the Triwizard tournament. The tournament consists of three tasks. Hermione helps Harry prepare for these tasks by researching with him in the library. She and Harry spends large amounts of time researching in the library's resources for clues on how to fight a dragon in the first task. In the second task, she is frustrated because she hasn't been able to find the answer to her question in the library's resources. Hermione assumes that if we have a question that we need answered, we can find the answer in a book or some other information resource.

The sad part is the librarian in the Harry Potter series does not seem much help. She is always shushing people and making sure they are following all the rules. In task number two, Harry is sleeping in the library after staying up all night studying in the library. That is an interesting thought. It is an house-elf, Dobby, who delivers the answer to Harry and Hermione's question. The Informed Learning Model emphasizes this relational element of information searching.

History of Christianity

Herring, George. Introduction to the History of Christianity. New York Univ. 2006. Photogs. Maps. Index. ISBN 0-8147-3099-8. $70; pap. ISBN 0-8147-3700-5 $22.

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Shaffett, J. E. Christian Librarian 50:139 no. 3 2007

George Herring is the author of What Was the Oxford Movement? He is a Church historian who studied at Leicester University and Keble College, Oxford. He has taught history in higher education for over 20 years.

This book is “beautifully crafted and clearly written” introduction to the history of Christianity. It adopts an approach that is different from many general Church histories in terms of “length, structure and presentation.” It looks in detail at three 200-year periods—“Christ and Caesar, Christianity Circa 300-500,” “Expansion and Order, Latin Christendom, Circa 1050-1250,” and “Grace and Authority, Western Christianity, Circa 1450-1650.” Each of these three sections is preceded by an introduction. The book includes maps, quotations from primary source material, and a further reading section.

George Herring has written a well-researched book that places the history of the Christian church in its historical context. He shows how sacred and secular interacted with each other and influenced each other. He intended this book to be read by more than just undergraduate students. He has “assumed only the most basic understanding on the part of the reader.” 

Added comments on May, 30, 2012: 

What I particularly like about this book is that instead of a summary of two thousand years of church history, Herring's book "focuses" on three 200 year periods of church history that "were critical for the development of Western Christianity." This book would be a good companion to a book that covers the 2000 yeas of the history of Christianity. One I would recommend is Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley.

Informed Learning and Harry Potter Part 1

Bruce, Christine Susan. Informed Learning. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-8389-8489-5

Christine Bruce in chapter 3 of her book, Informed Learning, describes seven faces of informed learning. I want to look at Hermione, a character in Harry Potter, through these seven faces.

1. "Informed Learning is Experienced as Using Technology to Communicate and Keep Abreast of Developments in the field."

I would broaden this idea to beyond technology to all the different means we keep current in a particular field and discipline. This would include conversations with others, e-mails, blogs, and listservs.

Hermione is constantly learning in the Harry Potter series. For example, she has a subscription to the Daily Prophet, even though she does not believe everything in it. Hermione is a critical observer of media. She spends lots of time in the library doing research. She researches anything she is interested in at the time. I like to think that I received two degrees an an undergraduate. One was my formal education and its required classes and the second was the reading I did on my own. Ron in book 4 asks how Hermione can do all of this non-required reading and research with all the requirements of their schoolwork. Hermione somehow finds time to do both.

Hermione is an example of an inquisitive learner. She never stops learning. We are more motivated and focused when we are reading and researching topics that interest us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ralph Wood's Critique of Walker Percy

Ralph Wood in his review of Signposts in a Strange Land, provides an overall assessment of the work of Walker Percy. This book is a collection of Walker Percy essays that was published after his death. It is one of my favorite books by Walker Percy.

Wood suggests that excellent minds "think once in their lifetime, but that "great minds think twice." He asserts that most of us do not think at all; we simply "repeat or modify the thoughts of others." I have problem with this definition of great minds. C.S. Lewis said that those who try to be original end up not being original, but those who try to communicate old truths in new ways are truly original. C.S. Lewis did just that and I would argue that Walker Percy did too.

According to Wood, Percy had an  "excellent mind and thought one thought over and again, in six novels, two books of nonfiction and more than two dozen interviews." What was this one original thought? It was "that this most prosperous and progressive of all centuries is the age of a massive spiritual disaster." In other words, Percy diagnosed the disease of modern life. There was something wrong with men and women and modern culture.

Walker Percy did say that his method was to put a person in a situation and see how he worked himself out of this situation. Wood notes that Percy was a "man with a message." This is true. There are two elements in Percy's writings: art and apologetics. These elements are often in tension with one another. I would suggest that he wants to deliver a message, but his novel is also exploratory. This is the aspect of art. He seems to have been successful as both an artist (National Book Award) and an apologist.

Wood argues that Percy critique of modernity is not without fault. The reason for this claim is that he faults modernity for an "obsession with theory;" however, he "seeks a more adequate theory." He asserts that Percy first thought was so great that Percy did not have to think again. This does not seem to be true. Based on interviews with people who knew Percy, he never stopped asking questions and seeking "the truth of things." Woods does say that "Percy had glimpses of a second and gladder revelation--of the Mercy that undoes sin and death, of the Good Tidings that lure us into pilgrimage and wayfaring." In addition, Wood asserts that these last essays by Percy shows him to have thought twice.

Troubled Marriages

Reconcilable Differences: Hope and Healing for Troubled Marriages, by Virginia Todd Holeman. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. 247 pp. ISBN 0-8308-3219-x.

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Shaffett, J. E. Christian Librarian 50:46 2007

Dr. Virginia Todd Holeman is professor of counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Prior to joining Asbury, she served as a full-time counselor in a private practice. She has extensive experience in marriage and family therapy.

Dr. Holeman attempts to answer four major questions in this book: “Can couples reconcile when their marriage has been severely damaged by moral wrongdoing? What roles do forgiveness and repentance play? Do other elements contribute to marital reconciliation in addition to forgiveness and repentance? Do reconciled marriages look alike, or are their contours unique, given the various contexts in which couples find themselves?” (p.9)

These questions led her to interview twelve couples from across the United States and Canada to talk to her about their marriage. The interviews sought to answer the question what went wrong in their relationships and what they did to repair their relationships. Dr. Holeman “developed a list of essential items for repairing damaged relationships in general and marriage relationships in particular” based on her studying these interviews, social science research, and theological studies. These essential items are “commitment to Christ, commitment to reconciliation, commitment to a reconciliation-friendly community, emotionally growing up, repenting, forgiving, restoring truth and trustworthiness”(28).

The author does a good job in communicating these points. She shows how these points are supported by social science research. Including the stories of these couples add a personal touch to the book. It illustrates these essential points to the reader intelligibly or in a way that is easy to understand.

This book is recommended for all libraries. It will be helpful to couples who are experiencing difficulties in their marriages. It will be helpful to all couples in learning essential truths for gaining intimacy in marriage.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why Read Walker Percy Part 2

Percy gave a very interesting speech to a group of educators. The title of the speech was “Another Message in the Bottle.” He tells his audience the message in the bottle he would deliver to them would be “R-E-A-D.” He told them that the most important thing they could teach kids is to read with pleasure. He says that the gift of reading provides the gateway “to the great treasure of our inheritance” (Signposts in a Strange Land, 356). It usually takes a teacher or parent to turn on a student to reading. To get a student interested in reading and to get pleasure from it is a great thing.  Percy tells a story of a person browsing the shelves for something to read. This individual comes to a section of books called Christian novels. What will he do? Percy says he will keep looking. Why would the person pass up the section of Christian novels? Percy thinks this person’s judgment is quite sound. What reasons does Percy give for this assertion? Percy states that what he will find in these novels are books that “set out to be uplifting, edifying, [and] moral. Now, what’s wrong with being uplifting, edifying, moral? Nothing, if the uplift comes from the writer’s art and not from his need to preach” (Signposts 361-362).
Percy, however, does have a message he wants to deliver. He delivers this message in an indirect way. Percy's message in the bottle is the good news of Jesus Christ. He sees himself as a newsbearer. Percy is both an artist and an apologist. For example, his first published novel won the National Book Award. He is also a moralist. Percy's writings critiques modernity and the thanatos syndrome. Percy can be read for the story and we will be delighted by it and he can be read for the meaning between the lines.

Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien on the Human Condition

Mere Humanity: G.K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition, by Donald T. Williams. Nashville: Broadman & Holman. 2006. 212 pages. $14.99

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Shaffett, J. E. Christian Librarian 50:82 no. 3 2007

Donald T. Williams is the director of the School of Arts & Sciences at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. He wrote Mere Humanity to answer two basic questions- What is man? What is the purpose of this life on earth? I thought of the book of Ecclesiastes while reading it. He examines the doctrine of humanity as set forth in the writings of Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien.

In addition, it is a response to naturalistic materialism or reductionism. It seeks to show that humans cannot be adequately described in purely materialistic terms. The book also illustrates the danger of departing from a belief in a sovereign and personal creator and his moral law.

Mere Humanity includes selections of Williams’ original poetry and an appendix that discusses the relationship between Christianity and literature. Williams shows the positive contributions that literature can make to the Christian life. Literature can enlarge “our world of experience”, open our eyes to biblical truth, provide positive role models, and cure us of “chronological snobbery”.

If you are already a fan of Chesterton, Lewis, or Tolkien, you will enjoy reading this book. The book is written well, and the author demonstrates a good grasp of the writings of Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien. It will encourage the reader to read these authors for themselves.

The Life of the Mind

The Life of the Mind : On the Joy and Travails of Thinking, by James V. Schall. Wilmington, Deleware: ISI Books, 2006. 214 pp. $25.00

James V. Schall, S. J., is Professor of Government at Georgetown University. He is the author of numerous books, including Another Sort of Learning, A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning, and On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs. 
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Shaffett, J. E. Christian Librarian 50:139 no. 3 2007

Human beings take delight and pleasure in knowing. Because we have not only bodies but also minds, we are built to know “what is”. Reflecting on Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Josef Pieper, Walker Percy, Wendell Berry, and even Charlie Brown, Father Schall discusses the various ways of thinking about the “joys and travails of thinking.” We can ask for no better guide to the life of the mind and how to nourish it than Father Schall.

This is a “book about thinking and reading, about thinking while reading, about being aware and being delighted in the very acts of either reading or thinking”(Schall, Xiii). Schall describes the experience of going into a library and having “no idea what to read, even when we know how to read”(Schall, 21). This is the reason for this book. Schall instructs us on acquiring books, keeping them and on re-reading them. He refers to C.S. Lewis’s perceptive remark “that if you have only read a great book once, you have not read it at all (though you must read it once in order to be able to read it again)” (Schall, 8).

Some of the topics covered are: “Books and the Intellectual Life”, the Liberal Arts, “On Taking Care of One’s Own Wisdom”, “On Knowing Nothing of Intellectual Delights”, “the Metaphysics of Walking”, “On the insufficiency of Apollo”, “On the things that Depend on Philosophy”, and “the Things that the Mind did not Make. The book includes three appendices. The first appendix consists of the twenty books that will nourish the life of the mind. The second appendix reproduces an interview of education and learning. The third appendix is a lecture given to seminarians on the pleasures of reading and the cultivation of the mind.

Father Schall is a master teacher, a man of profound wisdom and learning. He is an excellent guide to the things that really matter. Read this book and read Schall’s other books too. You will not be disappointed.
I will be re-reading Schall's A Catholic Mind and plan on reporting it this summer. It has been a general practice of mine is when I find an author I like is to read widely in their writings. This helps me to have a better grasp of their thinking.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Goals of Education

What should be the goals of education?

While a college student, I visited Tastee Donuts frequently. I went there to read, eat donuts, and drink coffee. I continued this tradition after college. After graduation, I became a middle school teacher not far from the university I attended. One evening I was grading papers at Tastee Donuts and the grades were quite depressing. The owner's wife told me why wasn't I learning my students. She might not have used this incorrect word, but I felt that is what she was telling me. Her picture of education was that you poured knowlege into the students head.

William J. O'Malley in his book, Help My Unbelief, provides another perspective on the goals of education. He believes that one of the goals of education is to be able to form opinion beyond reasonable doubt. He offers four steps in accomplishing this goal. First you see what is out there. You gather the evidence. Second you evaluate and categorized the evidence. Third you organize the evidence or outline it. The last step you "formulate a temporarily satisfactory conclusion---one's own personally validated opinion, which remains open to revision' (10-11). He also says if you are wise, you will offer your ideas to someone you trust for a critique.

My education perspective is more in line with O'Malley. The goal of education should equip the student to not need the teacher any longer. This is the goal of a liberal arts education. To provide the tools of learning so the student will be able to learn on his own. The teacher is like a mid-wife to help give birth to the learner.

Why I am a Christian

Why I am a Christian, by John Stott. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003. 140 pp. $10.00 ISBN 083083205x

This is the author's version (with some changes) of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Shaffett, J. E. Christian Librarian 49:42-43 no. 1 2006.

John Stott was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England in 1945 and has served the church ever since. Billy Graham calls John Stott “the most respected clergyman in the world today.” He has written over 40 books. His best known, Basic Christianity, has been translated into more than 40 languages.

Stott, in his new book, Why I am a Christian, answers the question why he is a Christian. This book is similar to Basic Christianity, but is more direct and personal in its tone. You almost get the feeling that Stott is conversing with you at the kitchen table.

In seven chapters, John Stott offers six reasons why he is a Christian. Christ “pursued, pricked, and prodded me until I surrendered to him,” because he is convinced that the claims of Christ are true, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, because Christianity explains our identity as human beings, because following Jesus Christ leads to freedom, because Christ provides fulfillment of our aspirations. The book concludes with a simple invitation to the reader to respond to the claims of Christ.

Why I am a Christian is easy to read and presents the essentials of Christianity clearly. The book can be read devotionally by Christians with much profit. It can also be given as a gift to non-Christians interested in learning about Christianity.

I am sorry to say that John Stott recently passed away. I have read many of his books and been benefited by them. I wish I had knew him personally, but this is the great thing about books, we can hear and study under the greatest minds and souls who ever lived.

Creation and Evolution

Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology, by Darrel R. Faulk. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004. 235 pp. $18.00. ISBN: 0-8308-2742-0.

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Shaffett, J. E. Christian Librarian 51:101 no.2 2008.

Darrel R. Faulk is professor of biology and associate provost for research at Point Loma Nazarene University, Point Loma, California. He is an evangelical protestant Christian. He has been a professor of biology for over twenty-seven years. The intended audience for this book is evangelical Christians.
The book addresses the concern over the conflict between science and the Christian faith. Faulk book begins and ends with the author’s own journey in reconciling his evangelical Christian beliefs with modern science. Chapter two focuses on the first three chapters of Genesis and different ways of interpreting it. Chapters three through six presents the “evidence from cosmology, geology, paleontology and genetics to make a compelling case for an ancient earth and the relatedness of all life forms [p.10].” The final chapter answers concerns evangelical Christians have with accepting the conclusions of modern science.

Faulk believes that a loving Creator God used the “mechanism of evolution to create all living things [p.10].” He thinks that science and faith can be harmonized with each other. He believes it is possible to be an evangelical who believes in the trustworthiness of the Scriptures and hold a gradual creation view. His purpose for writing this book was to “explore the story of creation in light of what we know from science [p.228].”

Coming to Peace with Science is a well-informed, scientifically accurate, theologically sound, presentation of evolution from a biologist who is a committed evangelical Christian. It is written at a level that would be understandable to beginning college students. It is highly recommended.