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Libri muti magistri sunt

Original post date: Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In English: Books are mute teachers.

In the spirit of the proverbs I've offered over the past several days on the topic of speech and wisdom, I thought this proverb would be an interesting counterpart. There's a nice sound-play with muti-magistri. I'm not sure how we could do that in English. Maybe: "Books are teachers who do not talk," or something like that!

This proverb illuminates what has always seemed to me an incredible paradox in the negative reaction many teachers have to online teaching. Since I teach fully online courses, I often am challenged by people who think that technology is impersonal. Most people still seem to assume that "face to face" contact is essential for learning. Yet think about it: we assign books to students all the time! We assign those books because we know the students can learn a great deal that way! No, they cannot see Dickens "face to face," and they cannot talk with him, but if they read a book by Dickens, they can learn so much that Dickens has to teach them. That is exactly the point of today's proverb: Libri muti magistri sunt.

So then, I wonder, why are these people who are so devoted to books so hostile to other forms of virtual communication? Books are simply one form of asynchronous communication, just as email is another form of asynchronous communication, along with webpages, video, and so on.

Speaking for myself, I did most of my learning in school by reading books. The classroom, to be honest, was not a magical place for me, but I positively haunted the library at all hours of the day and night. I loved the library, which was filled with the silent voices of thousands, no, millions of wise people, from all over the world and from over stretches of thousands of years of time. Magic: that was the library. The classroom: that was simply a chore.

Of course, I know not everybody feels that way. But teaching online has been a great opportunity for me. When I teach online, it feels like I am inhabiting the Internet (a giant virtual library) with my students, and I am simply their personal librarian. We consult the muti magistri together.

And if you didn't realize that the Internet has become a huge virtual library, just take a look at Google Books... glory hallelujah! The silent teachers, at your fingertips!

So, adding a bit of noice to the silence, here is today's proverb read out loud:

48. Libri muti magistri sunt.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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