What’s In a Notebook Anyway?

by Isaac Leaver

Those of us who have either completed, or are currently in the final years of, our formal education will know the feeling one has after finishing an exam in a subject one will no longer be studying. Rarely, in that moment of youthful exuberance, does joy swell at the realisation of “How much I have learnt!”. Rather, the sentiment of the day is “I am so happy that I never have to know any of this again!”. A significant number of students—both at my school and university—manifested their excitement with a ritual burning of all relevant papers, notebooks and other materials.

Ah, indeed, how youth is wasted on the young.

Those who have a few extra years of life experience behind us all have at least one example of something they once forgot wilfully and that they now wish they had remembered. Personally, I am embarrassed by my lack of understanding of even the basics of Newtonian physics and, on a far more practical level, how to differentiate between the earth, neutral and live cables in a plug. I stand doubly embarrassed when I recall vividly telling my physics teacher that I was to drop his subject in favour of history and other “proper subjects”.

As much as the average adolescent may hate to hear it, the reality is that it is impossible for us to judge what may become useful, necessary or even a point of enjoyment to know. From my own perspective of the teacher of Studio Education’s Classics course as part of its SALA (Studio Academy of Liberal Arts) curriculum, the beauty of Classics is that it covers so many different subject areas and so— ironically for its seeming disconnection from the modern world— its relevance crops up again and again. The purported shortcomings of democracy in the modern West appear to have a precedent in the disastrously short-sighted Trial of the Generals at Athens in 406 BC. One can make a general evaluation of the suitability of a potential office space quite successfully if one remembers Vitruvius’ three fundamental qualities for a building: utility, strength and beauty. These two examples say nothing for the general, ineffable and invaluable pleasure and wisdom that one can reap just from the simple acts of knowing and understanding as much as possible.

Nor is the continued relevance of the liberal arts as taught by Studio Education via SALA confined to Classics. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Shelley, who all appear in the BELLA (Beyond English Language and Literary Arts) classes, furnish students with unparalleled means of expression in the English language. Approaching variant cultures and societies around us from an analytical perspective, as fostered by the Anthropology and Geography course, is fast becoming a necessity in our global world. Despite the interdiction on using the word ‘science’ in all but the most necessary situations in my classroom, I am prepared to learn from my mistake in ignoring physics and vouch for the profound value in having a fundamental grounding in the processes biological, molecular and physical in the world. The Scientific Exploration courses cover these matters comprehensively. Whichever course you may pick at SALA, you will be provided with lessons that are not just for the semester, not just for your schooling, but for life.

Owing to this predisposition to viewing SALA as a first step in life-long learning, when I watch students copy out notes from my PowerPoints into their brown notebooks, I consider them completing nothing short of a ‘storehouse of knowledge’. As I prepare my lessons, it is my intention that they should finish their thirty weeks with a definitive and detailed introductory guide to Ancient Greece that they can pick up even in decades’ time and find of interest. It is on the account of this same reason that I encourage students to continue to write notes even when the hand is weak or the spirit flagging, when there is a concept or a turn in phrase in English that they do not quite understand: one day, when their minds are broader, their English better and their intellects perhaps more curious, their trusty brown notebook will still be there for their reference and enjoyment. This same attitude can be and should be transferred to the various folders and notebooks kept by all other SALA classes.

The liberal arts were designed not to help individuals pass exams or get into university, but to develop well-rounded minds with a full understanding of the world. This is a task—indeed, I should say, a duty— that never ceases, not even for teachers, parents and other adults. Having those dog-eared and yellowing pages of an old school notebook present at hand and complete in its content is as useful an aid in this endeavour as Myrtilus was to Pelops’ attempts to win the beautiful Hippodamia’s hand (see what I did there?).

Therefore, as students prepare to wrap up this second semester at Studio Education, I should exhort all to spare their notebooks, folders and handouts the destruction of the flame or the ignominy of the dustbin. One day, you may just find yourself searching desperately for that fact or concept that you never thought that you would need.

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