Ever wonder why there are books on just about everything? We all had a favorite book that we read, or that our parents read to us, when we were children. If asked to explain why that book was our favorite one would learn the value in which we had ascribed to the story. Whether your favorite book taught you about good and evil, to never give up, or about the importance of friendship and sharing (like my personal favorite Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister) it taught you something. Books codify knowledge into a valuable, tangible object that can be reused and shared. Putting it simply the information found in books is the key to the spreading of knowledge.
As we grew our parents sent us off to school everyday where the same method of transmitting knowledge was applied by our teachers. Young, eager, and ready to absorb information with our sponge like brains we were handed more books. We got older and the books got thicker holding more information, more power. By the time I reached high school, the primary way to learn a subject was to read the textbook given on it. Why? Well if my above explanation wasn’t enough Bernadette Longo states in Spurious Coin “To summarize, we could (over)simplify this characterization to say that textbooks contain knowledge that purports to be exhaustive, important, useful, standardized, idealized, for the public benefit, and encouraging of systematized social stability through science” (p.71).
So by the time we hit college we understand one thing for certain if we know nothing else, and that is to read the book. The book holds all of the power by this point in our lives because we understand it to hold all of the information. The professors are people who are new to our lives and yes, they have to prove and protect their authority before we are willing to be swayed by their lectures.
Professors teach concepts, and then to prove why we should trust their authority on the subject, assign readings that reiterate what they say. It is true that the professor decides our fate on the grade in the course, to a certain extent, but the book is the key to information and the keeper of knowledge. Anyone who has taken a college course can attest to the fact that sometimes professors never use the book they assign, which creates a power struggle between the professor and the textbook and is extremely frustrating for the student, but that’s another conversation.
The point is by the time we have made it out into the working world we have developed a need for evidence, and we ascribe authority to whichever source can prove it’s information to be true. By adulthood we have adopted a way of knowing that has been shaped by our academic experiences, and more specifically the books that we encountered along the way.
I trust that there is a superior way of doing things because that is what my years of ascribing authority to textbooks have taught me. I trust that if I can’t figure something out there is a document or a book that can help me solve my problem. I put faith in the books that are assigned for me to read because my professors, authority figures, defer the power that they have onto the books that they recommend. I question what people claim to be “fact” until I can find hard evidence for myself. For this dependency on proof in the form of written evidence I thank the guy who said hey, maybe we should write this down.
Longo, B. (2000). Spurious coin: A history of science, management, and technical writing.SUNY Press.