“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
Undoubtedly, we waste lot of our time and money in Education paying for and implementing strategies and beliefs that we think should work. When those are questioned, it doesn’t sit well with us. We are, after all, intelligent and rational people, are we not? In his cracking wee book, ‘The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction’, Alan Jacobs suggests that ‘the idea that…one of the purposes of education is to teach students to love reading – or at least to appreciate and enjoy whole books – is largely alien to the history of education’. (P.113) And, yes, part of that didn’t sit well with me.
Promoting a love of reading is, unashamedly, one of the key aims of my English classes. That doesn’t mean I exclude other forms of teaching reading; my classes are well-versed in interpretation skills, skimming and scanning etc. But I’ve blogged many times before about the dangers of failing to promote reading as a lifetime pursuit. ‘Alliteracy’ – I can read and write but I choose not to – is a scarier prospect to me. I often ask my pupils if they see themselves as readers and whether that is really important to them. What does that actually mean? They stare back at me in confused silence.
These are kids who read every day in my class. Many churn through books; some struggle but read more with me than they’ve ever done. However, unless I share my reading life with them, I don’t think many of them have any concept of what it means to be ‘a reader’ and what that might mean to them in the future. Rather than creating lists of ‘books I’ve read’, how can we share our experiences of being ‘readers’? Telling them about the great books I’ve read isn’t enough.
Despite the number of books I’ve read over my lifetime, if I was being honest, I would admit that, for most of them, six months later I could barely remember more than I would have read on the back cover. What could I could tell you though was that I read ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ travelling through Greece on a slow train to Olympia; ploughed through several Gore Vidal novels during one snow hit Aberdeen winter; finished ‘Wuthering Heights’ in a town square of a little Romanian village. And there, you begin to hear my story. It’s not about the books but about the reader.
Jacobs convincingly argues the case for reading in the modern age but then I was convinced before I started reading it. ‘What reading teaches, first and foremost, is how to sit still for long periods and confront time head on.’ (p.89) We’re forever being told that the internet has ruined reading for kids – although perhaps their skimming and scanning skill are better than ever? Schools are still spending buckets of cash buying in programmes and systems to promote reading. But perhaps the greatest strategy of all is to share our own reading lives with them: to talk more about the reader rather than the book.I really believe that it works.