Growing up I was a voracious reader. But as I’ve admitted elsewhere, I’m not in any danger of being labeled a literary snob. I’m not much into reading all the classics that everyone says you have to read.
Frankly, I read for two reasons. One, I want to learn something about a particular topic. Two, to escape and relax.
I read for the pleasure of it. I think that is why I didn’t enjoy AP English very much. Too much analysis and picking apart what the author meant by this object or this symbolic metaphorical doohickey.
That’s just not really me.
So I found this article quite interesting: The Case for Slow Reading. From the article (bold mine):
Open any newspaper and you are likely to find a story of some school whose students have read a million, two million—some big number of pages. As a payoff, the teachers wear pajamas for a day, or the principal shaves his head or agrees to eat worms, a reward to the delighted students. Then Pizza Hut or some other franchise that sponsored the event hands out coupons for nonnutritious food to the voracious readers.
It’s all great fun, a good story, a terrific photo op. But something bothers me about this picture—it’s as though reading has become a form of fast food to consume as quickly as possible, just one more cultural celebration of speed.
This association of good reading with speed permeates our schools, from the hugely popular Accelerated Reading Program, to “nonsense word fluency” tests in which young children have to decode “words” at a rate of more than one per second, to standardized tests in which reading is always “on the clock.” To be quick is to be smart; to be slow is to be stupid.
As a confessed slow reader, I would like to make a case for slowness. By slowness, I don’t mean the painful, laborious decoding some students must do or the plodding march through some assigned novels that may take weeks. Any pleasure or success in reading requires fluency and the ability to read with some pace.
But there is real pleasure in downshifting, in slowing down. We can gain some pleasures and meanings no other way. I think of the high-speed trains in Europe that I always wanted to ride, ones that hurtle through the French landscape at more than 200 miles per hour—that is, until I learned that at these high speeds, even the distant scenery becomes a blur. The retina simply can’t take in a clear picture at that rate of movement.
The same thing can happen in reading. I’d like to explore what we miss when we define good reading as fast reading and to argue for what Ellin Keene has called “dwelling” in the texts we read.
Author and media theorist Neil Postman provides a foundation for this argument in his classic book, Teaching as a Conserving Activity (1979). Schools, Postman argues, should act on a thermostatic principle; a thermostat acts to cool when a room is too hot and heat when a room is too cool. According to Postman, schools should act to check—and not to imitate—some tendencies in the wider information environment. “The major role of education in the years immediately ahead,” he writes, “is to help conserve that which is necessary to a humane survival and threatened by a furious and exhausting culture” (p. 25).
I get the impression Caroline is going to have certain areas where she kind of ambles along at her own pace. She does not like to be rushed and, unless something changes in the coming years, I can see her as one of the children who is smart as a whip but does not do pressure-packed standardized testing very well.
Pressure-packed reading seems absolutely contradictory to me. Reading should be pleasurable and enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
So it will be interesting to see how this develops in our home. We are doing our best to live a quiet, simple life. We have found the pleasure of downshifting and slowing down. How that translates into Caroline’s education has yet to be seen. But I hope to give her the gift of loving and savoring reading.