Friday, April 17, 2020

Why Teach Literature Stuff #7 Everything Is Reading

When I was teaching, and I had extra time on my hands, I would reflect on the work--the whys and hows and whats. So in solidarity with my former colleagues, I'm going to write a series about every English teacher's favorite thing-- teaching literature, and why we do it. There will be some number of posts (I don't have a plan here).

Also, it would be nice to write and read about something positive, and I don't know anything much more positive than what teachers do and why they do it.

Well, actually, everything is history. But history is reading, so there you are.

Being able to read, then interpret and understand and make sense from what you've read is the most universally useful skill that exists. Today more than ever, as we have collapsed back to the text-based medium we call the internet. Even reading an image or a video is reading. And writing, which is the only means available (okay, maybe not the only) for reaching out beyond the physical bonds of your own body and somehow connecting with other humans-- writing is also reading.

You interact with other humans, socially or at work, and you have to read them, parse their words, draw conclusions about their character and intent. Reading.

You have to do the same thing with nothing but the written word to go on. You're on social media or email or even, God bless you, opening an envelope and lifting out a piece of paper with marks on it, and you have to sift as much meaning and sense from those marks as you can. Reading.

You wade into the world of current events, filled as it is with the folks whose intentions are more reliable than their understanding, traveling cheek by jowl with confused amateurs and ill-intentioned bad actors. All mixed in with a smattering of people who know what the hell they're talking about. And nobody--not a soul--who you can just trust completely 100% of the time. How do you sort through all that? Reading.

Words are a fundamental part of what makes humans human. Reading and writing make me feel just as vibrant and alive and energized as drawing breath on a long run or standing at the top of a sky-lifting hill or even-- well, never mind. Reading is fundamental to who we are and how we function in the world.

Figuring out how to solve a problem, change a tire, balance a checkbook. Reading.

Being touched by fellow humans in the darkest of times. Reading.

Spending a lifetime grappling with the nuances and complexities of how to be a citizen, friend, parent, neighbor at this place in this time. Reading.

And reading is a skill, a mental muscle (and not, as some would presume, a collection of handy tricks that, once checked off the list, are equal to any puzzle) that must exercise and grow to stay well. One of my fundamental beliefs about humans is that we are either moving forward or losing ground; there is no standing still. So we are always exercising those reading muscles, need to be stretching and growing them.

Reading is uniquely, foundationally human. We were driven to create it as surely as we were driven to harness fire and cleave to each other. When we take it for granted, view it as drudgery, we close our eyes to one of the most amazing things that makes all our other amazing things possible. Try to imagine a world in which humans don't read; it certainly wouldn't look like the world we live in.

Everything is reading. It's a big damn deal.

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