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Mortimer next gets us thinking about the difference between a ‘live teacher’, someone who lectures or teaches a class, and a ‘dead teacher’, namely a book.
The challenge from Mortimer is mostly to ‘live teachers’ and to their students as to whether or not they are actually doing anything that a book couldn’t. Mostly, it seems, the best ‘live teachers’ will not just regurgitate facts they learnt from books, but they will work hard to engage a student that they might truly understand the subject. Even better, they will teach the skills and help the students practice those skills, correcting them when they go astray. When I think back to my own experience of teachers, the best ones were intensely practical, loved to have the students work through examples and gave real-life illustrations of how the subject is to be applied. In this respect, I understand Mortimers point.
All of this is really a lead up to the main point of this fourth chapter which is that the best books, the great books are ‘original communications’. They teach something that you can’t learn elsewhere. They are the result of an exceptional ‘live teacher’ discovering something original and then communicating it in the written form.
The implication of all this is that we really should be wanting to find the ‘original communicators’ of truth. And as our society documents more and more knowledge in books, it will become more and more true that the primary original communicators are ‘dead teachers’ in books and ‘live teachers’ are simply secondary communicators regurgitating what they have learnt from the books.
That is, we should want to find the great books of old. This strikes me as interesting because, yet again, Mortimer is touching on a Christian concept. We love the old, old book and should always desire to go back to the ‘original communicator’, the Word of God.In addition, in Christianity, there are no end to ‘Christian’ books but the best books are those old books that contain great truths (think Calvin’s Institutes, the puritans writings, Augustine etc) and we should be seeking out those books. And the best new books are those which open up ‘original communications’, applying the Bible to ‘new’ situations.