May 26, 2009

Bill's Retirement Wish

As I leave Ashland University to explore life as a retired librarian I want to share what I stumbled upon in the library stacks. I was looking for something to read with my lunch. Yes, we allow food in the library, and yes there is still something to be said for discovery by browsing library shelves.

Ursula Goodenough is a leading cell biologist at Washington University. In The Sacred Depths of Nature (p. xxi) she talks of memory and learning; things we in higher education should know something about.

“Human memory, they say, is like a coat closet: The most enduring outcome of a formal education is that it creates rows of coat hooks so that later on, when you come upon a new piece of information, you have a hook to hang it on. Without a hook, the new information falls on the floor. Some readers with scanty scientific backgrounds have told me that at the time they were reading one of my stories about Nature, they felt like they understood everything I said, but the next day they couldn’t remember a thing about it. No hooks, I explain. Then I remind them that there isn’t going to be a test, and that as they were reading the story they were in fact creating hooks for their next encounters with scientific explanation. And then, the most important part: the point of hearing a story for the first time is not to remember it but to experience it.”

My hope for faculty and staff is that you take pride in the hooks made here at Ashland. I hope you craft them well and make them attractive and sturdy. I hope you create many and varied hooks because our students are indeed many and varied. I hope the hooks you make encourage students to make their own hooks as they become learners and teachers in their own right. Hook making is, indeed, a noble profession. And this is my wish for AU students of all ages. May the hooks you’ve used and the stories you’ve heard at AU help you experience life in all its awe and wonder. God bless.