The reading list: 2. What subjects?
After trying to decide how many books to read, how do we divide them up between subjects? What needs to be covered in order to cover everything in the world ever as best we can?
There is no correct answer to this and it could cause arguments that will never end. I barely know where to begin so let’s look at what’s taught in schools. Here’s the list of subjects taught in UK schools to 11-16 year olds:
- Business Studies
- Design And Technology
- PE (Physical education)
- PSHE (Personal, social and health education)
- RE (Religious education)
- Study Skills
- Other Subjects
I’m not sure that really helps. But it does make clear that Septivium’s reading list can’t teach us everything. Some things — Art, Languages, Music, PE, Science — require varying degrees of practical skills that we’re not going to learn from books. We can learn some Art History but we’re not going to learn to paint. We can learn about physics but we’re not going to be doing experiments. We can learn about the human body but we’re not going to schedule in some football.
So what can we learn? I may be wrong, but I think we’ll need to state some biases from the start. For example, while I want to learn about the history of the whole world, I’m probably more biased towards the history of Europe and the United States. I could imagine including a book that covers, say, the history of America, or Europe since 1945, but not one solely about the history of Botswana (sorry Botswanans, nothing personal).
Rather than just say “I have no idea about this, what do you think?” it might be more useful to have a starting point to rip apart and change. So, here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head first draft of a list of subjects:
- Art etc
- Art History
- Music Theory
- Social Sciences
- Economics and Business
- Study skills
Plenty of biases in there I’m sure. Not least hidden under “Literature” — I’m assuming this would mostly be English-language, although I see no reason why we couldn’t provide alternatives for people who want to study literature in other languages.
All of these topics should be broken down into smaller chunks, although many I don’t know well enough to know how. There are other topics missing. The implied structure could be different. We haven’t even begun to work out how to divide the total number of books between the topics.
That’s enough from me for now. I’d love to know (a) if you know of any useful examples of reading lists or topic lists that try to cover everything or (b) what changes you’d make to my sacrificial list above.