I’ve started cleaning out the office space I’ve occupied for eleven years. I found boxes that haven’t been opened since moving in from my previous job – clearly they aren’t holding anything important. Old posters from conferences long past and forgotten. Printed user manuals from software seven versions out of date (and from an era before PDF manuals). I even found a binder of notes and assignments from an undergraduate course, circa 1985; that binder was older than many of my colleagues.
The metaphor of molting fits well – shedding parts of me that served me well at the time, but are no longer needed. At one point these binders, notes, and journal articles felt like off-line storage for my brain; I might not be actively thinking about their contents, but I’ve been maintaining an internal pointer to them, should I ever need to call them up again. Over time, though, I’ve either moved on from those issues, or am assured that the Internet knows all and that I could call up newer, fresher treatments of these issues as needed. It’s time to molt.
Going through my book shelves will be an interesting exercise. The planks are roughly six feet long. One entire shelf is devoted to philosophy, psychology, and education trade books. A second shelf holds statistical and psychometric texts. The third holds relics from years past – the Numerical Recipes reference, a calculus textbook, Sedgewick’s Algorithms… I’ll end up pruning books from each of them, taking what is most likely to be needed in the next stage of life and discarding the rest.
Can I know what will be important to retain? Generally I’d use the “if I haven’t looked at it in ten years, discard it” rule, but part of the reason I haven’t cracked some of these books is that my current work doesn’t demand it. I’m moving back into a position where the deeper questions – what is important to teach, how should we think about what it means to learn something – are going to be actively discussed. Maybe I’ll get to re-read Plato’s dialogs again. 🙂 Or rather, feel the urge to re-read Plato, to have an active question I’m pursuing in those pages. I’m looking forward to the metamorphosis.