Friday, February 23, 2007

The Good Citizen's Alphabet


When I was young and annoyingly lean I read a book by Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy,which equipped me with an equally slender and shallow interest in the topic that I have never really sought to plumb much further.

The book by Russell that I should have read is the delighfully obscure, forgotten and illustrated The Good Citizen's Alphabet. It is literally an A-Z of ThoughtSpurs.

Russell's introduction to the otherwise spartan text goes like this:

This book, it is felt, will supply a lacuna which has long disgraced our educational system. Those who have had the largest amount of experience in the earlier stages of the pedagogical process have in a very large number of cases been compelled to conclude that much unnecessary difficulty and much avoidable expenditure of school hours is due to the fact that the ABC, that gateway to all wisdom, is not made sufficiently attractive to the immature minds whom it is our misfortune to have to address. This book, small as is its compass, and humble as are its aims, is, we believe and hope, precisely such as in the present perilous conjuncture is needed for the guidance of the first steps of the infant mind. We say this not without the support of empirical evidence. We have tried our alphabet upon many subjects: Some have thought it wise; some, foolish. Some have thought it right-minded; others may have been inclined to think it subversive. But all — and we say this with the most complete and absolute confidence — all to whom we have shown this book have ever after had an impeccable knowledge of the alphabet. On this ground we feel convinced that our education authorities, from the very first moment that this work is brought to their attention, will order it instantly to be adopted in all those scholastic institutions in which the first elements of literacy are inculcated. —17 January 1953. B.R.


I came across the book in the wonderful site/blog Design Observer. I will encourage my students to visit it when they get a moment between txt msgs.

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