vast room, we were lined up to swear, one by one, that we would protect the books of the Bodleian Library, neither remov- ing them nor suffering an open flame to be lit within the hallowed library walls. In return, we were given what is probably the best library card we will ever own. Though I did not fully realize it at the time, that moment marked a turning point in my view of education. The re- ceipt of my “Bod Card” gave me a new gratefulness for the way my parents had educated me at home and deeply influ- enced my concept of what it means to actually get an education. The gift of a library card quickly became symbolic to me of the gift of becoming a self-driven and lifelong learner. However, it took a few weeks for those realizations to sink in. I didn’t fully un- derstand the significance of what I was experiencing until I began my “tutorials.” The system of education at Oxford is quite different from that of most U.S. colleges. There are almost no classes and only a few lectures; most learning takes place through reading, writing, and a weekly, one-on-one meeting with a professor. I vividly remember the end of my sec- ond tutorial, because it was on that day that I began to grasp the significance of my library card. After a week of intense reading and frenzied writing, I arrived at my tutorial, essay in hand and with great trepidation in my heart. Hard as I had tried, I felt that I had not sufficiently mastered all the facts. My essay was an
exploration of the ones I had found to
be most pertinent, but I felt sure that my
professor would point out a dozen errors
the instant I was finished reading my essay to her. I was wrong.
“Hmmm,” she said, “now that part
about MacDonald’s landscapes, that was
intriguing. Tell me more.” Slightly dazed,
I did. There was no great criticism to be
faced. She mentioned a few “footnoting
issues” of course, but then, we enjoyed a
lively discussion of the ideas I had presented. I was pointed to a book that might
set my thinking straight. I was asked what
interested me and assigned a new essay.
Instead of being subjected to the academic
criticism I had expected, I felt that I had
been at tea with a friendly mentor who
The gift of my library card was my pass to explore, to
question, to think with passion and independence.
The Radcliffe Camera [Room], the heart of the Bodleian Library
had encouraged me to explore whatever
piqued my interest. I walked out dazed
and utterly delighted.
As I walked home in deep thought, I
began to understand the significance attached to the libraries of Oxford. The gift
of my library card was my pass to explore,
to question, to think with passion and independence. My tutor expected me to have
interests and opinions. In fact, my tutors already considered me a scholar. This, I soon
realized, was an assumption underlying the
whole educational system at Oxford.
One of the best lessons I took home
from Oxford, one of the world’s best uni-
versities, is that learning is not a series of
events in which an “expert” systematical-
ly floods you with a set amount of facts.
Rather, education is the process by which
a young scholar is mentored by an older
one, not brainwashed, but equipped,
mostly through the exploration of great
books, to be an experienced reader,
thinker, and maker of ideas. Every stu-
dent is capable of independent thought
and responsible for the advancement of
his or her own education.