Saturday, 8 February 2014

I am uncomfortable....

with this week's topic! "Is books making us stupid?" Now I haven't even watched Dave's video and I haven't read anyone's post because in my mind I am thinking "Uh, no?!" and "Fix the grammar!" So I know Dave is being deliberately provocative to try and make me challenge some long held assumptions about literacy and reading, books and the idea of fixed knowledge. So I'm uncomfortable and really reluctant to go there- to engage at all. After all, I am a readaholic- I always have at least 3 or 4 books on the go. There is not a day that I do not read something, even if it's drivel. But I am also driven by curiosity to know what Dave has posted. Honestly, I completely understand Pandora!

But the statement alone "Is books making us stupid?" does speak to me on so many levels. First, of course, is the idea that books are a source of fixed knowledge- that once written down, it is finished. Except at its heart this idea is false. Any writing, and therefore any written idea, is fluid. Volumes are edited, abridged, reworked, rewritten, lost and then found (think Shakespeare, the great borrower and the great influencer- the ultimate in recycling of ideas!) The fact that an idea is written down gives us time, as the reader, to mull over in our minds what the writer means to convey. The beauty of it is that as soon as the thought is coalesced into writing it is no longer the property of the writer but the reader. Each of us, when we approach a text bring a different viewpoint, life experiences and cultural dynamic to bear. We shouldn't expect to engage in understanding text the same way, because we are different people.

As to those who read and cannot find the "correct" meaning as according to the educational powers that be, good for you! If you can articulate your point of view and derive a different meaning from a text, that is as it should be. As far as I am concerned, your perspective is valid (after all, you're reading the writing of someone who loathes "Waiting for Godot" supposedly the best play of the 20th century! What about Pinter? Or "Rhinoceros"?)  As well, different words, especially in English, have multiple meanings and multiple interpretations. I find that as I get older, my writing and language usage is becoming archaic (Karen the dinosaur!) Does this mean that I am a poor communicator or that I should stop writing? And reading?

And how can books be making us stupid, when the internet runs off of text? Text messages, blogs, visual presentations, email, Twitter, reviews all rely on our ability to interact with text. Or perhaps books and text are making us stupid because we have stopped listening to each other? And yet, if that were true why is YouTube, Skype and Google+ hangout and radio such communication mainstays?

As educators, our challenge is to make sure that our students are comfortable engaging with text as well as the spoken word and other forms of media. Reading is such an immense hurdle for so many students and writing even more daunting. Is that because we assume there is a "right way" to interact with text? A right way to write? As an elementary teacher, I've had some brilliant students, gifted at writing and reading, in understanding the contextual meaning as defined by what the ministry has determined a book means, etc., etc. But I've also had some students who are gifted, imaginative writers who cannot spell and grammar eludes. To them I say, keep writing! (Hire a good editor!) Because in the end, what we really are trying to develop in each student is their gift or talent in the area of communication.

Next stop? Dave's video!