Those closest to me know that I go nowhere these days without some classic book (or other book of philosophy or theology) and I’ve immersed myself in classical music for the same reason.
Chapter Five:Learning: “With All Thy Getting Get Understanding”
Education is the great conversion process under which abstract knowledge becomes useful and productive activity. It is something that need never stop. No matter how old we become, we can acquire knowledge and use it. We can gather wisdom and profit from it. We can grow and progress and improve-and in the process, strengthen the lives of those within our circle of influence. We can enrich our lives dramatically through the miracle of reading and exposure to the arts.
The older I grow, the more I enjoy the words of thoughtful writers, ancient and modern. I savor that which they have learned and processed and recorded for others to read.
I have in my home library an old set of the Harvard classics that originally belonged to my father. Though he was not a man of great financial means, he was an educated and thoughtful man who placed a high priority on language and learning. I still refer to this fifty-volume set of classic books, just as I did more than sixty years ago as a university student. It is a treasury of timeless literature, an encyclopedic presentation of the great thoughts of men and women who, in their eras, struggled with serious problems, thought deeply, prayed mightily, and expressed themselves in ways both challenging and beautiful.
In our home also was a room we called the library. It had a solid table and a good lamp, three or four comfortable chairs with good light, and hundreds of books in cases that lined the walls. We were never forced to read, but the books were placed where they were handy and where we could get at them whenever we wished. There were also magazines, books on technical subjects, dictionaries, scriptures, and atlases. There was quiet in that room. It was understood that it was a place to study and write, ponder and meditate.
There was no television, of course, at that time. Radio came along while I was growing up. But my parents created within our home an environment of learning, and they made it clear-more by their actions and priorities than by anything they said-that they valued learning. I grew up believing that it was desirable to be informed, to be educated, to increase one’s understanding about the world and its peoples. I would not have you believe that we were scholars, for we were not. But we were exposed to great literature, to great ideas from great thinkers.
At that early age, perhaps without realizing it at the time, I came to believe that we must never stop learning. The more we learn, the more we are in a position to learn. I urge parents everywhere to make a determined effort to create and cultivate within their homes an atmosphere of learning and the growth that will come of it.
Children who are exposed at early ages to books have scholastic advantages throughout their lives. Parents who fail to read to their small children do a disservice to them as well as to themselves. It takes time, yes, much of it. It takes self-discipline and planning. It takes organizing and budgeting the minutes and hours of the day. But it is never boring to watch young minds come to know characters, expressions, and ideas. Good reading can become a love affair, far more fruitful in long-term effects than many other activities in which children use their time. It has been estimated that the average child in the United States watches something approaching 8,000 hours of television before he or she even begins school. What difference might it make, what influence could it have in the homes of this country if parents were to work at creating an atmosphere of learning and education at home, if children were exposed at an early age to thoughts and concepts and attitudes that would build and motivate them for good throughout their lives.
None of us can assume that we have learned enough. I have lived long enough now to say with certainty that as the door closes on one phase of life, it opens on another. It therefore behooves us, and is our charge, to grow constantly toward eternity in what must be a ceaseless quest for truth. And as we search for truth, let us look for the good, the beautiful, and the positive.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior proclaimed that a city on a hill cannot be hid. He then taught that men do not light a candle only to put it under a bushel, but instead to place it on a candlestick, where it may give light to all present. Then he issued this profound challenge, one that has the power to literally change the world: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:1 ~l 6).
It is not enough just to live, just to survive. There is incumbent upon every one of us to equip ourselves to do something worthwhile in society. We must acquire more and more light, so that our personal lights can help illuminate a darkened world. And this is made possible through learning, through educating ourselves, through progressing and growing-both mind and spirit.