What could be worse than a nation deprived of knowledge? In the words of Ray Bradbury, an American fiction author, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” Indeed, books are a wealth of knowledge that cannot be replaced by even the best movies. How can something as singularly important as reading receive so much scorn?
The fact is that people don’t read much anymore, especially in the face of ubiquitous social and multimedia distractions. Most of our children actually express an active hostility towards reading. Even students with intact decoding and fluency, complain that reading is just too hard, and not worth the effort. The chief concern is why reading is such a challenge for so many.
Most adults allege that they are too busy to find time for reading. Others are quick to blame technology for the death of the reading cultures. Most students blame lack of time as the reason they don’t get to read as much as they want to, and this is quite sad. Although the burden academics place on a student’s time and the chase for wealth among adults are major determinants on whether they voluntarily read, these are just a tip of the iceberg. The problem runs way deeper than we are allowing ourselves to admit.
It stems from the fact that our culture has become both anti-academic and anti-intellectual. We prefer to read magazines and blogs that are subtly self-promotional, instead of reading good books that would widen our perspectives in life. Parents are too busy to read or to entice their children with books. Students, on the other hand, would rather have university degrees that are more dependent on lecture handouts than well researched books. We have surrounded ourselves with an implicit anti-book agenda, yet still we wonder why kids don’t read books.
Regrettably, the culture of spoon feeding in our institutions only serves to worsen an already existing problem. A typical scene in most lecture halls is of about 100 sleepy-looking university students taking their seats in a large lecture hall – chatting, laughing and calling out to each other across the aisles. Class then begins with a big “shhhh” from the instructor and for the next hour or so, the instructor lectures and the students take notes or follow in the handout given (that is if they are not entertaining tete-a-tete on WhatsApp). By the end of class, the three large blackboards at the front of the room are covered with tit-bits of notes and we all go home to meet the following week with your copy-pasted assignment ready for marking.
Lest I am misunderstood, lecture handouts are very helpful as they serve as maps to the unknown areas of the course. Unfortunately, students make these handouts their main source of reference and make no attempt to read extensively and intensively on various concepts, much less read for fun. Soon they sit the exams and move on. We must incessantly interest the learners into reading extensively if we hope to have a fully literate society.
In order to rejuvenate and instill the culture of reading among students, both parents and teachers should read to them regularly. Let your child/student see you read often. It can be cookbooks, magazines, the newspaper, novels or non-fiction. In addition, share the excitement or intrigue you have experienced from reading and schedule some time for the class to indulge in reading. You can even start a Book Club within an institution for people to share what they have read.
Similarly, send your child/student to the library regularly occasionally, to read specific texts and conduct a discussion based on their findings.
Whatever happened to the natural thirst for knowledge is a puzzle yet to be solved. Curiosity is a natural human trait that, with proper nurture, can grow and flourish throughout life. It sprouts vigorously in young children, but in many adults it is in a sadly withered state. The way to keep your natural curiosity alive is by indulging it. There is no such thing as too much knowledge. Of course, you still have to make a living, drive your kids to the doctor, and cut the grass among other things but your life will be better if you sometimes put down your smart phone and read a good book.
The writer is a lecturer at The Adventist University of Central Africa