Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teachers are Better Read Than Researchers

Professors at research universities know far more than I do about their subject.  They not only read what they need to know to do their own research, but also what their competitors and fellow workers in the same vineyard are up to. I am grateful for the research they do, which I use all the time. 

But I am better read than the average research professor.  This is not to claim to be smarter, just more widely read.  A family sociologist, for example, will read in family sociology, and maybe a few other of the biggest intellectual books in a year.  I read pretty steadily in family sociology, too, because I teach it every year.  I am just now off to a workshop with leading researchers in the field to hear their latest.

But I also teach a social structure course every year, so keep up with class and status research. And I keep my hand in on the sociology of religion, my first specialty.  And read enough in social theory to teach it regularly.  And the books in "Introduction to Sociology" come from every field I read in.

Lately I have spent a few years learning the field of happiness studies, which draws heavily from psychology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy, and literature, in addition to sociology.

I read widely because I love to, first and foremost.  But also my job of teaching in a liberal arts college creates a structural necessity for me to read widely and keep doing it, year by year, because my students need and expect me to know a wide range of things.

I was thinking of this today due to a blogpost by Cal Newport at Study Hacks on ultralearning, the practice of learning a range of techniques which, in turn, helps you see new solutions to old problems.

Broad reading is not just for teachers.  One of the enduring aims of a liberal arts education is to make each student a broad reader all your days. This is a reason why liberal arts learning it the best preparation for life, #423.

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