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A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer - 3.1415926535897932384626...
A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
Here's something I've been thinking about for a while. The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is a cyberpunk (wikipedia says postcyberpunk) book by Neal Stephenson.  It tells the story of, among other things, a very cool technologically advanced book with the same name as this entry.  The book is designed to, over the years, interact with and teach a young girl the things necessary for her to become an educated and refined (it's created by a gentleman in a  Victorianesque society) young lady, but also an independent and downright badass girl with the skills to do anything she wants (which in Nell's case includes beating the crap out of a violent insurrectionist group and saving the world).  The original idea for the Primer came from a man who wanted to make sure that his granddaughter didn't grow up to be just another educated but mindless Victorian lady.
So here's what I've been thinking: even though we don't have the technology for a real Primer, shouldn't there be some way of producing a similar effect from a combination of things that are available to us?  You can't force exposure to all these things on a child, but you can encourage.  And of course different people will place importance on different areas, but here is my version of the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

A big part of it is about doing anything active, not spending every hour sitting in the house, watching TV, or even reading.  The best activities are ones that teach a skill or information, although it's important to find things that one actually enjoys.  Personally, I think the following things are important:
-exploration of the physical world, whether it's city streets or trees and streams
-some kind of self-defense - even if you think you will never need to use it, it can help with confidence and independence
-knowing how to make things and fix things that are important in daily life
-learning another language from a young age
-and, finally, partly due to my personal prejudice but also realistic, I think: lots of reading

The real purpose of this entry is to expand on the final suggestion about reading, because it is not enough to read just anything.  There's a lot of crap out there.  There's also a lot of stuff that isn't crap and definitely should be read, but doesn't contribute a lot towards the goal of the Primer.  So, from my completely biased perspective, here are the books I have read that do contribute towards that goal of opening the mind and/or guiding a person to resist sheephood.  (Given in order according to approximate age-appropriateness.  For a version with explanation of each choice see here.)

A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer:
Andrew Henry's Meadow, by Doris Burn
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss
The King's Equal, by Katherine Paterson
Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt
Gone Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright
Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Half Magic, by Edward Eager
The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J. K. Rowling

Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede
Alanna: The First Adventure, by Tamora Pierce
Holes, by Louis Sacher
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
The Wind Singer, by William Nicholson
Abarat, by Clive Barker
The Host, by Stephenie Meyer
A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare

On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson

Current Mood: triumphant

7 comments or Leave a comment
From: selantri Date: April 3rd, 2010 12:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I am reading this book right now! And thinking the same thing!! I just started reading it a few days ago, so I haven't actually reached the part where the Primer is introduced, although I keep hearing a lot about it from other sources. It seems like technology might soon reach the point that we can develop something fulfilling this purpose – a combination of augmented reality technology and video game sensibilities might do the trick. The problem with even the best, most interactive, thought stimulating computer game is that you're still behind a screen. With a little augmented reality, you could be out and about in a forest with a wireless device that streams information or lessons about whatever you are interested in.

Also- your list of important things is almost identical to the principles I use to guide my experiences and education (although martial arts didn't go so well)

But I think you should add one thing to your list- cultivating the ability to effectively communicate one's opinion through writing and speaking.
And perhaps a study of aesthetics. Aesthetics is such an important part of information presentation- in graphic design, how one dresses, the tone of one's writing. Kind of the flip-side of thinking clearly is presenting one's thoughts clearly.

I think that while it will be possible to create a primer soon, it won't occur to developers until a few years- that entertainment technology can so seamlessly be made into an educational experience.

Also --> Semester At Sea. Totally.
From: windrider927 Date: April 3rd, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yay! How did you come across the book?

And what is something one can do to cultivate the ability to effectively communicate one's thoughts?
From: selantri Date: April 3rd, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been meaning to read Snow Crash because it looks awesome, but the library and the book store were out of all their Neal Stephenson. I went back to the library the next week and this was the only one they had of his books. Hopefully they'll let me renew it today. How did you come across it?

As to your second question, I was thinking about the kind of instruction we've had in English classes- writing different forms, especially the analytical essay and persuasive essay. Some high schools also have classes on Public Speaking or Debate Club, and those seem like good ways to learn how speak more effectively.

I'm studying some 19th century composers right now and the one's who were members of the social elite had educations almost identical to this (except for the martial arts and tree climbing).

Maybe you should add some nonfiction to the list too. One could develop a sense of history and science that way without expressly studying it.

Also...the Host? Is it really good? I'm less than impressed with Stephenie Meyer's writing in general.
From: windrider927 Date: April 6th, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
-Ross introduced me to the Neal Stephenson books. I started with Snow Crash, which is wonderful.


-Yes, I do think there is value in a good old elitist education, but the point of the Primer is to not fit completely into that mold. The point is to be highly educated but able to break out of that and have adventures.

-I'm not as worried about areas that schools generally cover, but it's a good point, and I have made an addition to the list accordingly.

-as for The Host, see my explanation here: http://sailingonthought.blogspot.com/2010/04/host.html
From: selantri Date: April 7th, 2010 04:22 am (UTC) (Link)
ooh, you have a blog? Is there anyway I can get notifications from gmail when you post new stuff?
From: windrider927 Date: April 7th, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, you can be a follower, and then I think it will tell you.
From: windrider927 Date: April 7th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
In that little thing on the right hand side.
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