Knowledge is Golden

I’m one of those people who would probably be happiest being a full-time student. I wouldn’t want to write the papers and take the exams, but I would be happy sitting in class, taking notes, reading the material, and taking part in classroom discussions.

I think it all started with The Golden Treasury of Knowledge.

I probably learned more from The Golden Treasury of Knowledge than anything I learned in school. The Golden Treasury of Knowledge was something akin to The Encyclopedia Britannica, only on a much smaller scale. I think my mom and dad bought them on sale at the grocery store. To a shy, nerdy, bookish grade school kid, they were knowledge nirvana.

I had the first six volumes. Each volume spent three or four pages on different subjects. I particularly liked the pages on gems because I loved collecting rocks. I was also kind of fascinated with the medieval ages.

I spent many summer afternoons reading through the books. I went back to them all the way through junior high and high school. They taught me a lot.

I always loved school, especially grade school. I loved learning. High school was different. My senior year I felt like all I was doing was biding my time until graduation. I was ready to be done, and didn’t put much effort into my classes. The sad thing was, no one really seemed to notice.

Maybe it’s blasphemous coming from a teacher, but I don’t think formal education is necessarily the only–or best–way to learn something.

As a former grade school teacher, I have to acknowledge that at least a quarter of the school day was spent transitioning from one class or activity to another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve never understood the unrelenting push for “time on task.” Try sitting all day in a seminar or conference with no breaks and you’ll get what I mean. No one is meant to spend eight full hours engaged in learning, least of all small children. And the push to get rid of gym, music, art, library, etc. in order to spend more time on “academic” endeavors (i.e. test taking prep) =  complete insanity.

I think anyone can teach themselves anything on their own. In my world, the answer to almost anything can usually be found in a book–or the internet. If I have a problem with anything in life, I usually head for my computer first, a book next, and then all my friends.

Michael and I are teaching ourselves how to garden. We’re building a fence. Neither of us expects perfection, which is key to teaching yourself anything.

When I started running six years ago, before I joined a running group and learned from the experiences of others, I read every book about running I could get my hands on. I still go back periodically and consult the books, especially when I decide to start training for a new race and make a new a training plan.

For me, the best teacher is experience. I’ve learned more about running by just running than anything I ever read in a book.

Michael taught himself everything he knows about computers. Despite a degree in something completely unrelated to computers, he now makes his living from data and computers. He’s also recently taught himself photography and videography.

Hel’s also directly responsible for my own exit out of the technological stone age. A few years ago he showed me how to set up Power Point presentations for my fifth grade social studies lessons. Then he talked me into giving up my Blackberry for a smart phone, and I spent a very stressful weekend reading the online manual trying to understand the mini-computer in my hand.

By the time my son gave me an iPad for Christmas, it took me no time at all to learn the ropes.  Learning to blog and upload photos has been huge for me this past year. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

I still love to read and learn new things, especially science. I wish I’d had better science teachers when I was younger.

I recently read a book by Carl Sagan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which Wikipedia called “a Roots for the human species.” Sagan is one of my idols, and I wish he was still alive. I have to admit, the book was a little dry, but I learned a lot.

I have no idea what happened to my Golden Treasury of Knowledge, volumes 1-6. Like other things from childhood, I suspect it either found a new home or met its end in a trashcan. I can’t imagine not having computers and the internet, but I think we did okay without them when I was growing up.

I don’t know if there’s some type of internet equivalent of The Golden Treasury of Knowledge, but I hope there is. It taught me a lot about the world.


  1. Patti Ross

    Oh the love of learning! As a former teacher, I agree with you wholeheartedly that learning takes place with individuals–and teachers need to find a way to spark the fire to learn more. My sister home-schooled her kids, so I know how much even younger kids can learn from the power of reading and doing. Thanks for the great post.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thanks for reading, Patti. It’s going to get tougher to reach each individual in the classroom when they start increasing class sizes, too. Teachers certainly have their work cut out for them these days.

  2. joannevalentinesimson

    Lovely!! My folks had a book, I believe it was just called “The Book of Knowledge,” in our home bookcase. It was just a one volume compendium of all-there-was-to-know-in-the-world (or so I thought) and I just loved browsing it as a child. I don’t think the internet is the same, somehow. Even though I rarely use them anymore, I cannot bring myself to give up my nineteen volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Sometimes I just pull a volume (initially looking for something or someone from the past), and then spend half an hour sampling the biographies of obscure historical figures (mostly gentlemen) whose names begin with the letter of my first interest. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      When I heard recently that they were going to stop printing the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I was very tempted to see if I could find a cheap version on eBay. We never had a set at home, but I loved looking through them at the library. I would definitely hold onto them if I were you!

  3. averageinsuburbia

    We had a set of books with Bible stories I read over and over and over. It was illustrated with scary Gustave Doré etchings. To this day, mention Noah and the flood and I picture hundreds of naked people clinging to rocks. The books really stirred my imagination.
    In the middle school where I work, we always have a group of students who strictly read non-fiction but most students do not. I always try promote different non-fiction books because I don’t think most kids see the possibilities for being entertained or maybe finding a new interest. We have a book about chairs. CHAIRS! It’s so interesting, who wouldn’t want to know about chairs? I showed it to a boy this week and he thought it was the craziest thing in the world anyone would want to learn about chairs.
    I think it’s good to want to keep learning new things. It is what keeps you young!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I think the book about chairs sounds awesome. I loved taking my fifth graders to the library and helping them discover books they wouldn’t normally be interested in reading. Looking at their choices always taught me a lot about the kids, too, especially the quiet ones who checked out poetry books or books about dragons. Mostly, I was just happy when my struggling students would get excited about reading anything.

  4. skippingstones

    That’s one thing I love about my smart phone – information at my very fingertips, 24/7. I am constantly looking things up. How much of it I remember is a completely different subject! Mostly I remember that “I read something about that once and it was…well they used to…or, no…all the people would…I don’t know…” But I do love to find out the answers, and if it’s really interesting I’ll look it up again.

    I would also read a book about chairs. 🙂 If they write about it, I’ll mostly read it.

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