From the Head of Junior School

College Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021

Why we should all be reading, no matter how busy we are…and why our children should too.

Reading was once assumed, but no more. So why should we be readers?

  • Reading shapes us differently than other forms of media
  • How we read matters
  • Reading stories teaches us to live wisely and well, morally challenges and forms us in ways that argument doesn't, helps us develop courage and empathy, and helps us recognise injustice

According to a study by the (US) National Education Association, we are reading less, comprehending what we read less, reading for pleasure less, and reading stories less. Reading scores have fallen significantly in the last 30 years, with sharper declines for lower level readers and boys. Reading literature in particular is in decline, with some saying “we don’t have time for make-believe”.

Reading is being crowded out by the electronic. Whereas teens and young adults spend several hours a day on electronic entertainment, they spend less than 9 minutes per day reading.

So, why read?

Stories engage the whole person – they encourage left and right sides of the brain by cultivating the imagination, as well as reason. Noted Christian author, CS Lewis, was highly concerned with the importance of reading – and we have him to thank for the Chronicles of Narnia as a result.

Stories teach us by example, eg: how to be brave; stories embolden, strengthen and establish how we can become our very best. What great stories have in common is a journey whose conclusion appears uncertain. They are full of hope, they are about courage, the tragic ones are about someone who did not have the courage to do something they had to do, or who took the coward’s way out. Storytelling becomes central to conquering fear. Stories create new ways of seeing, which lead to new ways of feeling and thinking.

Great books expand our vision. A great reason for reading biographies is they tell the stories of the lives of fascinating people – and expand the imagination’s scope for what is possible. You learn how others grappled with similar problems. Fiction helps us to better understand and empathise with others. Story-reading may even help us to better recognise injustice.

So, what can we do?

Read. Mortimer Adler famously said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you”.

Read well. Slow reading is very different from how we read and extract meaning from scanning texts or email.

Re-read. CS Lewis famously said, “No book is worth reading at the age of ten, which is not equally, and often far more, worth reading at the age of 50 or beyond”.

Write. Writing helps us be productive and also to appreciate reading.

Adapted from a recent ACS Conversation with Cherie Harder, Friend of ACS and President of the Trinity Forum Washington DC.

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