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Reflecting on This Summer’s All-School Read

The Xavier E-News sat down with science department chair Jonathan Ratheram-Browne to discuss this year’s summer reading assignment for the Xavier community.

Xavier E-News: Why was this reading chosen?
Jonathan Ratheram-Browne: It is important to state that no matter what book was chosen, it is clear to all the importance of being fluent in reading and writing even from the fact I am doing it now! But going deeper than just the functional level, literacy enables freedom of thought, the ability to access information, and to make judgments about social obligations and what it means to be a citizen of the world. Being able to read and write means being able to keep up with current events, communicate effectively, and understand the issues that are shaping our world.

Xavier E-News: How was this reading chosen?
Jonathan Ratheram-Browne: Back in mid-March, departments and students were polled for whole-school read suggestions. The students completed a Google Form survey and the results of this were analyzed by the academic council and a Whole-School Read Committee. Biography, sci-fi, and fiction were the top genres selected. Then came the hard part—choosing a book that met as many of the preferred criteria as possible. During a science department meeting, Gianpiero Delliturri ’13 recommended Einstein’s Dreams. The book, along with others, was reviewed by the Whole-School Read Committee and seemed to present itself as the perfect candidate.

E-News: What is the significance of this reading? Does it in any way relate to what we teach the students?
Ratheram-Browne: The book is highly contemplative—with each of the vignettes illustrating a slightly different standpoint on the nature of time. Each of these postulations thinks through the likely consequences and impacts. Each of these vignettes can be looked at as a hypothesis and the whole book resonates with the first steps of the scientific method. We teach Sons of Xavier to see the whole picture and to think about ideas from different angles.

E-NewsWhat are you hoping the Xavier community will get out of this reading?
Ratheram-Browne: The concept that theories and models are developed over time and are always refined. Even the models we have for the atom are evolving as more information comes to light.

E-NewsWhat is the importance of summer reading for students and the greater Xavier community?
Ratheram-Browne: The first thing would be a commonality—giving students the starting point for discussion, “What did you think about the whole school read?” It doesn't matter what the answer is—it is something that everyone in the next academic year will have in common. An understanding that literacy is a vital tool and these skills are seen throughout the community with the importance and reverence they deserve.

E-NewsThe book seems to tackle the concept of time and allows readers to reflect on their relationship with time. What are some ways you think readers resonate with this?
Ratheram-Browne: I think the concept of time is mysterious. In many ways it is intangible and then, in other ways, seems so rigid and demanding. The book still leaves me with the question, “So, what is time?” I hope students will see that asking questions might not always lead to the answer, but will always help refine the next question.

E-NewsHow did it impact you, specifically? Do you think you'll remember it in a few months or years?
Ratheram-Browne: I love science and the meditative nature of this book allowed me to see how each of the ideas of time may play out hypothetically. I will remember this book for years to come.

E-NewsDo you have a favorite quote from the book? If so, what is it and why?
Ratheram-Browne: “A person who cannot imagine the future is a person who cannot contemplate the results of his actions. Some are thus paralyzed into inaction.” I like this quote because learning to anticipate the likely consequences of our actions is a key aspect of personal growth.

E-NewsIs there one word you can use to describe the book?
Ratheram-Browne: Thought-provoking.