Learning Is the Only Thing for You!

Welcome students (and other visitors)! This video offers a radical proposal: Learning is not really about “acquiring information.” It’s original meaning is to find a path, to track, even to hunt. What does that have to do with your university education? Please watch the video below to find out!  

I can’t resist sharing this marvelous quotation of Merlin from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, a delightful book that retells the old Arthurian mythos for a 20th century readership (and, eventually, theater. The musical Camelot is based upon it):

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

But what is this word, “to learn”? Where does it come from? It turns out originally it is the language of wayfinding and hunting. Tracking.

According to Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways,

“The trail begins with our verb, to learn, meaning ‘to acquire knowledge.’ Moving backwards in language time, we reach the Old English leornian, ‘to get knowledge, to be cultivated.’ From leornian the path leads further back, into the fricative tickets of Proto-Germanic, and it the word liznojan, which has a base sense of ‘to follow or to find a track’ (from the Proto-Indo-European prefix leis-, meaning ‘track’). ‘To learn’ therefore means at root ‘to follow a track.’ Who knew? Not I, and I am grateful to the etymologist-explorers who uncovered those lost trails connecting ‘learning’ with ‘path following.'”

I look forward to finding paths and hunting together with you this semester! RT

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