Much as President Eisgruber ’83 is to be congratulated for introducing a “Princeton Pre-read” for incoming students (President’s Page, June issue), I hasten to point out that this is not a wholly new idea. Back in the summer of 1964, prospective freshmen like myself received a letter from the University advising us to read Alfred North Whitehead’s The Aims of Education before we set foot on campus. Duly purchased if only skimmed, this slender volume seemed to resonate with qualities which made Princeton back then seem daunting, lofty, and out-of-touch.
Glancing at The Aims of Education the other day showed me how wrong I had been about Whitehead’s relevance to our times. To quote one passage: “The result of teaching small parts of a large number of subjects is the passive reception of disconnected ideas, not illumined with any spark of vitality. Let the main ideas which are introduced into a child’s education be few and important, and let them be thrown into every combination possible. The child should make them his own, and should understand their application here and now in the circumstances of his actual life. From the very beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery.”
Regrettably, the Princeton education I experienced was woefully lacking in these regards. We were presented, in large lecture halls, with “disconnected ideas” and did not experience much joy of discovery. A tip of the hat to President Eisgruber for selecting for this year a book about a recent graduate’s journey on a river in Colombia, immersing readers in the lives of ordinary people affected by political violence and upheaval. Alfred North Whitehead would certainly approve!