Not All Reading Is Equal

We often hear about how important it is for children to develop a love of reading. But like so many statements about education, a vital ingredient is missing from this apparently laudable aspiration. It is comparable to bland proclamations that children should learn to be creative. What is missing is specific content.

Creating what? Reading what?

There are many things which I would not want my pupils to read. Reading is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. And the end is knowledge.

There are many kinds of knowledge which reading can bring, which are difficult to access in other ways. Great literature brings knowledge about the fundamental questions of human existence. Historical writing, scientific writing, philosophical writing and even journalism can carry new insights into the nature of the universe and humanity’s place within it. A fluent reader can gain access to thought that will open her mind and raise her aspirations. But she can also gain access to fake news and poisonous propaganda. Reading can poison the mind as well as nourishing it.

There is nothing intrinsically good about reading. It depends what you are reading, and it depends on how accurately you can interpret it.

Of course we want all our pupils to be able to decode fluently. But beyond this, we must think about how we nourish their thinking so that they can use this wonderful opportunity to expand their minds, not to poison or pollute them. A regular diet of knowledge will give them a taste for reality, so that they are increasingly able to discriminate between different authors, and reject what is false.

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3 thoughts on “Not All Reading Is Equal

  1. I’d be interested to hear if anyone knows of any primary schools that have any books that were written before the 1970s, In 1993 I met a primary teacher in Poland who was desperate to get some English language books, and I found that our village primary school was getting rid of all of their old books–enough to fill the back seat of my car. They were all in good condition, but the head rather sheepishly explained that they were ‘a bit old-fashioned’. Meaning that they didn’t pass the PC bar then in operation. No doubt some of them even mentioned things like Christmas as though it weren’t a subject that had to be treated ‘sensitively’. In any case, the Polish teacher couldn’t believe his luck.

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