Thursday, February 3, 2011

Information isn’t learning.


Undergraduate Ceremony Address: David McCullough, May 15,1999:

Information isn't learning. Information isn't wisdom. It isn't common sense necessarily. It isn't kindness. Or trustworthiness. Or good judgement. Or imagination. Or a sense of humor. Or courage. It doesn't tell us right from wrong.

Knowing the area of the State of Connecticut in square miles, or the date on which the United Nations Charter was signed, or the jumping capacity of a flea maybe be useful or valuable, but it isn't learning of itself.

If information were learning, you could become educated by memorizing the World Almanac. Were you to memorize the World Almanac, you wouldn't be educated. You'd be weird.

My message is in praise of the greatest of all avenues to learning, to wisdom, adventure, pleasure, insight, to understanding human nature, understanding ourselves and our world and our place in it.

I rise on this beautiful morning, here in this center of learning to sing again the old faith in books. In reading books. Reading for life, all your life.

Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent as a good book.

I have some calculations for you to consider.

Reportedly the average America watches 28 hours of television every week, or approximately four hours a day. The average person, I'm told, reads at a rate of 250 words per minute.

So, based on these statistics, were the average American to spend those four hours a day with a book, instead of watching television, the average American could, in a week, read:

  • The complete poems of T.S. Eliot;
  • Two plays by Thornton Wilder, including Our Town;
  • The complete poems of Maya Angelou;
  • Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury;
  • The Great Gatsby; and
  • The Book of Psalms.

That's all in one week.

If the average American were to forsake television for a second week, he or she could read all of Moby Dick, including the part about whales and made a good start, if not finish, The Brothers Karamazov.

Read for pleasure. Read what you like, and all you like. Read literally to your heart's content. Let one book lead to another. They nearly always do.

Read, read, read, is my commencement advice.

For the entire speech check out.