Why Read?

Why do students loathe reading? They would rather watch the movie than read the book. Is it that video literacy doesn’t require, seemingly, as much skill as reading a book? It feels easier to kick back on a sofa or relax in your school desk in a darkened room than to sit beneath a lamp, isolated from noise and commotion, while reading. And with video the viewer feels the illusion of another human presence. The “voice” of the narrator or actors speaks to the viewer, stimulating both the auditory and visual senses.

Maybe that’s the key. The more senses a lesson stimulates, the more like real life it will seem and the better a student will learn. Reading stimulates only sight—yes, technically it stimulates touch too, but holding a book and turning the page is about as tactically interesting as standing still. Another possibility: being told something carries a sense of security. Someone else has the answers and can tell you what they are. After all, you’ve been conditioned by years of early schooling to revere books (though you dislike them) because books, those silent mentors written by dead geniuses, have all the answers. What better than to have it told to you in person? That is, after all, easier than deciphering the meaning from a book. You don’t have to think; all you need to do is switch into receiving mode and wait with your pen ready.

On top of this, students are taught to read silently. I remember my elementary school lessons. Teachers encouraged me to read without moving my lips and to be quiet, to read to myself. They have a name for it now: Silent Sustained Reading, more of a break for overworked teachers than pedagogy. Students must sit with their book, playing the part of disciplined monk and somehow form a spiritual connection with their tome—for when you must sit still, not speak, and not look about, you have removed all the physical elements. And after the physical is removed, what else is left but the spiritual?

Patrons are even encouraged to be quiet in the library, lest they disturb those who are trying to read, to concentrate. Thankfully, most libraries now have children’s rooms, where the kids can read their books aloud and be generally boisterous.

So what do we do as teachers? Embrace the new literacy of video and Internet or try to foster the older, proven techniques developed to handle the monograph?


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