I so adore Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings though she is so prolific, my reading is always lagging. But the weekly summary in my email, jaunted me to read The American Scholar: Emerson’s Superb Speech on the Life of the Mind, the Art of Creative Reading, and the Building Blocks of Genius.

The reason being the influence of my 10th grade English teacher, Mrs Kershman.

Mrs Kershman, scan of 1981 Milestone, my high school yearbook. Anyone want to come after me for copyright violation?

Mrs Kershman, scan of 1981 Milestone, my high school yearbook. Anyone want to come after me for copyright violation?

What was it in her teaching style that woke up my curiosity? English was always a class I cruised through by just putting a lot of words down on paper. But that did not fly with Mrs K. She drove us hard to think critically about writing and reading.

It was our reading of Emerson’s Self-Reliance in Mrs Kershman’s class that lit my fire to start to rail against the norms I saw of high school, my suburban experience, my mostly unformed life to that point. It was the gateway my 16 year old self did not even know it sought. An essay. By some guy who leaved 100 years before me. Who would have thought?

That recent issue of Brain Pickings opens with “Long before our era’s foundational theories of how creativity works, Emerson argues that the fertile mind is one which connects the seemingly disconnected:”

To the young mind, every thing is individual, stands by itself. By and by, it finds how to join two things, and see in them one nature; then three, then three thousand; and so, tyrannized over by its own unifying instinct, it goes on tying things together, diminishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground, whereby contrary and remote things cohere, and flower out from one stem.

Yes! We start with facts, and little bits of curiosities, our observations– and later, maybe years, maybe decades, maybe days, we connect, tie together “discovering roots running under ground” — was Emerson… a Rhizomatic? was he part of #rhizo1837?

Also quoted was Emerson’s disdain for “pseudo-intellectualism”

Colleges.. can only highly serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns, and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit.

He would have no disdain for the modern educational system, eh?

I noticed that there was a hyperlink in Brain Pickings for Emerson’s Essays and Lectures (woah lectures, aren;t they like passé?) labeled “free download.”

essaysYep on Amazon, you can download this for the price of $0.00. On the Amazon page it says:

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

Converted to digital by a community of volunteers. I’ll assume there was some connectivity in that community.

Why are these volunteers not acting as (I cringe at even pasting in this word, a word that will never leave my lips)… teacherpreneurs, the thing to do according to the New York Times?

Thank you “community of volunteers” — I looked around a little bit to see if I could find out who did this. Searching on that as a term gets you… a lot of non-relevant links. I will just call them CoV.

So I have my downloaded copy of Emerson’s essays to pour through again, maybe that joy of discovery form 10th grade can “kindle” (bad joke) a few flames? Maybe I should do some reading in a federated wiki (that was bait for you, Mike Caulfield, but it is the ideal thing to do read along notes).

Only on page 2 of the forward, I am already highlighting like mad. Emerson’s son described how his father put together his lectures:

All through his life he kept a journal. This book, he said, was his ‘Savings Bank.’ The thoughts thus received and garnered in his journals were indexed, and a great many of them appeared in his published works. They were religiously set down just as they came, in no particular order except chronological, but later they were grouped, enlarged or pruned, illustrated, worked into a lecture or discourse, and, after having in this capacity undergone repeated testing and rearranging, were finally carefully sifted and more rigidly pruned, and were printed as essays.

Sounds like Ralph Waldo started this process with something like blogging or a commonplace book.

Connecting the disconnected. That does not mean all disconnected are connected, but maybe the more disconnections you have the more potential there is for connection. Maybe.

The last bit I note from the forward, Emerson died April 27, 1882, that would be exactly 81 years before I finally arrived. Much to late to catch an Emerson lecture, but primed just right to come across his book, for free due to the affordances of the grandest system for connecting the disconnected.

Thanks again CoV.

And RWE.

Top / Featured Image Credit: flickr photo by Dennis Valente http://flickr.com/photos/dotnetsensei/11247054275 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Hi Alan,
    A lot of your posts have been resonating with me of late but I haven’t engaged in the feedback loop and let you know. The community of volunteers concept is one that I really like and is one of the coolest parts of the open web. When you share or contribute with no expectation of anything in return is often the time when you get rewarded in other ways, and you are one of the best documenters of that happening that I know of. I have found the teacherpreneur (or edupreneur) phrase to be one that really gets under my skin but I haven’t been able to articulate why. And your post points back to the point that the expectation of renumeration (for a resource, for providing a service, for creating an idea, for pointing someone to one of these things) is an unneeded barrier to the potential of digital networked learning.

  2. Really brought me back to when I bought my copy or Emerson’s Essays–“the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks”. Keep at it and by “it” I mean the self-reliant yet connected life, it may not be the only way of living but it is a damned good one.

  3. Excellent essay weaving together your teacher, your library (Amazon), your favorite ideas about rhizo, and a book review–what ‘s not to love about that?

    My husband Peter and I are both lifetime daily journal keepers in the way it is described Emerson was. One of my favorite photography themes is photos of Peter journaling in all the beautiful (and not so) places in the world we find ourselves.

    I am humbled by the influence one English teacher can have even as I reluctantly crawl back on the horse for the beginning of a new school year–because regardless of the many critiques I increasingly have of the higher education system, I still have real people intensely within my tutelage for ten weeks at a time. May the spirit of Mrs. Kershman inspire me!

    Thanks, Alan–well done (and NO, that isn’t said with me teacher voice on!)

  4. I know exactly what you mean about Mrs. Kershman, because she was my 8th grade English teacher at Pimlico Junior High School in Baltimore. She not only taught me to think critically about writing, but also encouraged me to become a writer — and I did! If you happen to know her current whereabouts, I would love to get in touch with her to say thanks.

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