As students settle into another school year, one of the most prolific authors in history is back with some advice on getting the ideal education.
Isaac Asimov wrote or edited some 500 books before his death in 1992, but his views on education have a renewed profile with the recent release of a vintage TV interview on DVD.
As part of journalist Bill Moyers’ “World of Ideas” series that debuted on public television in 1988, Asimov sat for a two-part interview that touched on a number of topics, including Asimov’s opinions on the perils and promise of America’s classrooms. The interview is back in circulation in “Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas: Writers,” a four-DVD set recently released by Acorn Media.
Even when Asimov talked with Moyers nearly a quarter of a century ago, he could see the rise of online learning as a complement to the traditional classroom. Thanks to computers, Asimov said, “everyone can have a teacher in the form of access to the gathered knowledge of the human species.”
Asimov saw online learning as a promising alternative to the one-size-fits-all curriculum of conventional education, and a great way for learners to indulge their individual interests. “Nowadays, what people call learning is forced upon you — and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class, and everyone is different,” Asimov tells Moyers. “For some it goes too fast, for some too slow, for some in the wrong direction. But give them a chance, in addition to school — I don’t say we abolish school, but in addition to school — to follow up on their own bent from the start.”
Asimov also embraced computers as a venue for learners of all ages to continue pursuing knowledge long after graduation.
“No, it’s not just for the young,” Asimov says of learning. “That’s another trouble with education as we now have it. It is for the young, and people think of education as something that they can finish. And, what’s more, when they finish, that’s a rite of passage to manhood: ‘I’m finished with school, I’m no more a child.’ And, therefore, anything that reminds you of school — reading books, having ideas, asking questions — that’s kids’ stuff. Now that you’re an adult, you don’t do that sort of thing anymore, you see?”
The problem with this, Asimov tells Moyers, “is that you have everyone looking forward to no longer learning— and you make them ashamed afterwards of going back to learning.”
Asimov, whose curiosity propelled his production of scores of books featuring science fiction and science fact, championed a different view:
“There’s no reason . . . if you enjoy learning, why you should stop at a given age.”