As part of a sincere effort on my part to insure that in 2012 I do read some of the serious books on my "to be read" list, I've been working my way through the essays in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning by one of my favorite contemporary heroes in the realm of education: Jacques Barzun.
There are 15 essays in this book under three headings: First Things, Curriculum, and Advanced Work. I've finished the first section, and as is usual for me when I read this sort of thing, there are copious amounts of underlining and comments penciled into the margins.
Perhaps when I've finished I'll be able to articulate the primary message of the book; but for now, I'll just share a few quotes.
Teaching is an art, and an art, though it has a variety of practical devices to choose from, cannot be reduced to a science.
Again like governing, teaching is telling somebody else how to think and behave; it is an imposition, an invasion of privacy. That it is presumably for another's good does not change the unhappy fact of going against another's desire--to play, whistle, or talk instead of listening and learning: teaching is a blessing thoroughly disguised.
The computer, moreover, does not teach, does not show a human being thinking and meeting intellectual difficulties; it does not impart knowledge but turns up information pre-arranged and pre-cooked.
Knowing something--really knowing it--means being able to summon it up out of the blue; the facts must be produced in their right relations and with their correct significance. When you know something, you can tell it to somebody else.
For my readers who know who Charlotte Mason is--narration, yes?
There is more, about the hazards of fragmented knowledge, and importance of understand the relations that exist between subjects, but that should be enough to whet the appetite of anyone who has an appetite for this sort of reading in the first place.