The 100 Greatest Books
In 1930 the University of Chicago appointed R. M. Hutchins to make a list of the Greatest Books in the world to standardize all undergraduate study. Hutchins broke down the books into a four year educational term:
Year 1: Ancient Greek Writers
Year 2: Roman, Medieval and Renaissance
Year 3: 17th - 18th Century Authors
Year 4: 19th - 20th Century Authors
Hutchins then listed the 100 Greatest Books accordingly. Do any of these following choices of books sound familiar?
Homer's Illiad and Odyssey;
the Judeo-Christan Bible;
works from Plato and Aristotle;
Luther, Shakespeare, Mozart,
Galileo, Rousseau, Kant and Darwin,
just to name a dozen or so.
The Greatest Book was chosen for its inexhaustibility, that is, its ability to dazzle through the ages no matter how often it is read. It was also chosen to catch the reader in a web of knowledge that would equip them to understand the real world, real people and real issues.
The Greatest Books were intended to represent the best knowledge of the Western Civilization.
Wait a minute! Here is what does not make sense to me, since when is knowledge meant to 'represent', as if it were party to a team or taking sides?
It is true, every single one of those hundred books is Western. The chosing of 100 'Western' books was much like putting blinders on a horse. The educational system of the West wanted to ensure learning was directed solely from the perspective of the West.
Is this okay? The Eastern Institutions can do the same, direct all their knowledge from the East. Yet, at the end of the day a separation of credentials occurs. If one is not educated by 'Western' standards, one is out of the loop, the system will not support them. Unfortunately, 'Western' not only means geographic location of authorship, it also implies a philosophical comfort zone as well. For example, there are no authors in these 100 Greatest Books from Indigenous circles crying out for justice concerning the loss of land and rights due to colonization. Perhaps a dialogue regarding this kinded of 'learned' exclusivity is in order.
Unfortunately, even when these 100 Greatest Books present us with an opportunity to growth and enlightenment, modern Western knowledge must first be filtered through this one focal point: that is the exploitation of so called unlimited natural resources for the sake of exponential economic growth. Yes! Truly! Our education system is influenced radically by our mode of productivity.
Mortimer Adler expected more from these Greatest 100 Books hoping they would cover a wide range of issues. Essentially, the world today cannot afford to understand itself in pockets or groups with a voice that drowns out the others. We are a circle of life and knowledge needs to revolve freely around that circle. Perhaps humanity's efforts to restore the environment we have over-exploited have failed for the very reason that our World-view is also out of harmony.
Fortunately, other perspectives exist to complete the circle of knowledge at this crossroads in human history.
It remains like a voice crying out in the wilderness to listen to the written and oral perspectives of the East, the South and the Indigenous World-views and knowledge systems, while continuing a dialogue of even deeper understanding of the goodness and history of Western knolwedge. This is the foundation of the restoration of human relations with our common Mother Earth.
Here are some examples of the books and traditions Western institutions and all peoples can include as pillars in our concepts of knowledge and education:
The Vedas and Upanishads
I Ching and Lao-tzu
Confucius and Mencius
The Dhammapada and Bhagavad Gita
Kanada, Maya and Lotus Sutra
Wang Chong and Yogachara writings
The Qur'an and Ali Ahmad writings
Zen teachings and Tang poetry
Shonagon and Kabir
Omar Khayyam and Zohar
Kabbalah and Sikh writing
Rumi and Jami
The Thousand and One Knights and the Voyage of Leif Ericson
The Popol Vuh and the Edic Poems
Black Elk and Lame Deer
Chief Seattle's Letter to George Washington and Broken Spears
Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico
Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americans
and Poems of Black Africa
African Senghor and Lumumba and the Chants of Polynesia
Technicians of the Sacred: a Range of Poetries from Africa,
America, Asia, Europe and Oceana
The Oral Traditions of Indigenous Elders and those involved
in successful environmental activity
This research is limited to the experience of one person who fully understands the variability of a more comprehensive list. The point remains that in order to restore sustainability between human beings and the earth that is crumbling away in our hands, we have to look beyond our immediate circles and unite in this one endeavor to bring honor to our ancestors and an inheritance to our children whom we all one day will turn over to the gentlest of mothers.
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