My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. Both move people forward without wasting anything. Peter Golkin (1966~)
[I have a confession to make.]
I just started middle and secondary school reading guru Kelly Gallagher’s Reading Reasons to help me to better answer the ultimate question many young readers ask: Why should I read?
[Wait. That’s not the confession (or at least nothing that I feel guilty about).]
I am a teacher-librarian at a middle school; I served eight years in the same position at a secondary school.
[Wait. That’s not a confession either.]
I served as a board member of our local public library for five and a half years.
[That’s not it either.]
I was a vice-president (advocacy) of our teacher-librarian provincial specialists association, British Columbia Teacher-Librarians’ Association, for nearly seven years. I was a catalyst to help re-envision, relaunch, and promote the Association’s marquee province-wide reading advocacy project reaching over 3000 schools and nearly 350 000 students: Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) every third Monday in October.
[Not yet. I’m just proud that I was part of an amazing team.]
I literally grew up in the branch of our local public library (ah, those were the days…). I possess hundreds of fond memories of my time spent in that building located in a strip mall next to the Canadian Tire and a family-owned bakery.
I’m getting to it. Really.
I know and have relationships with all of our local book dealers and shopkeepers, librarians, local and regional literacy coordinators, and school librarians.
I am an avid reader with hundreds of books on both real and virtual bookshelves in our home. Including well stocked child and youth selections. I have at least three books on the go at any given time (one professional, one of personal interest–usually non-fiction, and a fiction title if you’re asking).
[Wait for it…]
To those that know me, my favourite gift to give (and receive) is a book.
I have three children, and two of them (boys ages 10 and 14) do not like to read. I should be more specific: they do not like to read books. They enjoy being read to (a habit both my wife and I have been doing since the oldest was born). They enjoy co-reading. It’s not that they can’t read. It’s that they won’t read on their own for pleasure.
It is probably not even in their top ten choices of things to do given time to do it.
And for the pseudo-confessions above, I find this a quite discouraging. That’s my confession. My dirty, little book lover’s secret.
Our local school district operates a Read by Three program in many of its elementary school the goal of which is to help all students read with fluency at grade level by the end of Grade 3. And while this might be true in theory, I’m not convinced that it does much to fan the flames of student passion for reading. To want to read. To want to escape in pages of an engrossing tale. To want to use only the author’s voice to exercise their imagination. The want and love of a paper book. Pure enjoyment of reading (one reason to celebrate: because you can read).
Our fourteen year old son claims that he reads. A lot. His reading is, yes, predictable: social media aimed at the age 10-18 demographic. Those Instagram or Snapchat news feeds are high on fluff, low on actual stuff (but, alas, I’ll reserve my response to this disagreement for another blog post). Admittedly, like most North Americans in the twenty-first century, I do read from the Internet. I consume my news and current events information from strictly online sources (again fodder for another blog post). But, I balance those silly news feeds from Facebook (i.e. 10 year old steals parents car and leads police on a wild chase) with my offline reading. My favourite muffin and cookie recipes reside online, too. It’s a balance. A healthy one, I think.
It is safe to say that reading is a physiological, emotional, spiritual, and psychological process. I won’t get into the details around what current brain research reveals on reading, but I am concerned that we are now declaring that casual, disjointed, and non-contextual perusal of the Internet is reading. We need to recognize that reading with passion (and for any kind of meaningful insight) does not exist on the vast majority of the Internet. It is important that as parents, teachers, and other modellers of reading for our children that we acknowledge this difference.
Reading involves interacting with the words, the prose. Reading often challenges your thinking or ways of thinking about something. Reading is often incongruent with personal values. Reading for passion challenges us to use that unique part of the brain, the prefrontal cortext, that is sorely lacking when we skip and skim our way through articles online. This is the ‘reading’ that my son proudly refers to when asked if he reads. The five minute check-in of his social media news feeds. I beg to differ.
So, there’s my confession: as an avid reader, public advocate for reading, I struggle supporting my own children to differentiate casual perusal of information (the good and the bad) from reading to understand oneself, one’s society, and one’s place in society.
I have some work to do. I think we all do.