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TECH TALK: Good Books: Investing: The Last Liberal Art (Part 2)

June 1st, 2004 · No Comments

Perhaps the best section in Robert Hagstroms book Investing: The Last Liberal Art is the one on Literature. Hagstrom takes us on a visit to St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland. The college is known for its Great Books Program. Hagstrom elaborates:

The entire curriculum is devoted to reading and discussing the great books of Western civilization; there are no separate disciplines or departments, and no electives. Over the four years, the students will read classic works in literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, science, government, economics, and history, and discuss them intensively in seminars of eighteen or twenty students. In smaller classes, they also study music, the visual arts, languages (Greek in the freshman and sophomore years, French in the final two years), mathematics, and laboratory science.

The curriculum design follows an approximate chronological sequence. In the freshman year, students focus their attention exclusively on the great thinkers of ancient Greece. The second year covers the Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods, and also includes classical music and poetry. In the third year, students read major works of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers. Seniors move on to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

One of the regrets that I have in life that the education system in most Indian schools and colleges (especially in the sciences discipline) de-emphasises the liberal arts. It is only later in life that one realises the need for a broader set of ideas and mental models. For many of us, it is probably too late then. Reading Hagstroms book, I wished I would go and spend four years at St. Johns! Perhaps, we can create such a college in India?

The Literature section of Hagstroms book also has a section on how to read a book, based on ideas outlined in Mortimer Adlers How to Read a Book, published first in 1940. Writes Hagstrom:

The central purpose for reading a book, Adler believes, is to gain understanding. That is not the same as reading for informationClearly, information is a prerequisite for enlightenment, but the trick, says Adler, is not to stop at just being informed.

Reading that makes you stop and think is the path to greater understanding not solely because of what you are reading but because of the process of reflection in which you are engaged. You are learning from your own thinking as well as from the authors ideas. You are making new connections. Adler describes this as the difference between learning by instruction and learning by discoveryAchieving real understanding requires you to work, to think.

Hagstrom is a great teacher. The book is like going back to school and learning the same principles that we once learnt only to excel in exams. Only this time, we are doing so for enriching our lives.

Tomorrow: The Toyota Way


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