Reading: It’s Not Just for ‘Readers’ Anymore!

Kate Daley-Bailey

“I’m not really a reader.” I have heard this student claim before, and again I let out a sigh of frustration. Telling your college professor you are ‘not a reader’ is like telling your boss you are not ‘really a worker.’ Nope… sorry boss, I’m just Reading III childnot the ‘working’ type. Now before I dump this excuse into the dung heap with the rest of the excrement which gets pedaled to teachers on a daily basis, I would like to briefly reflect on this statement and its implications.

I mean, all literate people ‘read’ and even illiterate people ‘read’… they just don’t read words. They can ‘read’ someone’s mood, gathering of storm clouds, the danger of a snarling dog, etc.  They can interpret various symbols used to communicate information (male/female symbols, deer crossing signs, the ominous skull and crossbones image). And while symbols, like words, are very context specific, this is a type of ‘reading.’ Of course, my students DO read. They read texts from their friends, posts on their Facebook walls, score boards at football games and even sometimes the school newspaper. But students who make the above statement seem to be making an observation (excuse or not)—not about reading per se but about identity.

‘Reading’ (as referenced above) is an activity that communicative beings participate in—in some form or fashion. But this student has come to the conclusion that ‘reading’ is not an activity in which most social beings participate. Reading has become the domain of the erudite few (whose musings are unhinged from ‘the real world,’ and, thereby, inconsequential) rather than a medium of communication itself. Some students do not see it as their responsibility to read but rather view reading as relegated to a special group, ‘the readers’. But if sentient beings participate in ‘reading’, in its broadest sense, to successfully function (aka survive), why has reading gone from being an activity in which social beings participate to an identity relegated only to the few ‘readers’ of the world? Are we not all ‘readers’ in some sense of the word?

I will end with a note from one of my favorite books (gasp) Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and I ask, why the “runners,Reading dirty word jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers,” cannot also be, simultaneously, “examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators”? Need ‘intellectual’ be a swear word?

“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”

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