Document Type

Article

Disciplines

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature

Abstract

In “The American Scholar,” Emerson warns against letting books become tyrants. As education “reformers,” political forces, and other special interests continue to pull modern teachers in so many different pedagogical directions, Emerson’s warning is increasingly powerful. Books tyrannize, Emerson says, when we use them passively by simply absorbing information from them, rather than actively by catalyzing our own thinking and actions with them. In effect, he claims that books are not something simply to be learned, memorized, or analyzed, but should help us to create. Today’s gifted student, her schedule usually overflowing with work and co-curriculars in an environment often hyperconscious of grades, may be more susceptible to “book tyranny” than others, and may even seek to impose it on herself: “Just tell us what this book ‘means,’ teacher, and whether it will be on the test.” Learning is thereby reduced to information collection, a subordination further simplified by the preponderance of online study guides, summaries, and ready-made essays that are just a Google search away.

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