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Reading

Reading is an extraordinarily complicated intellectual act, which leads some people to think that it can only be taught by experts. In this it parallels, motherhood. However, both reading and motherhood are both too complex for experts for the simple reason that expertise implies that you have identified the way things work regardless of context.

The expert fails at both reading and motherhood because he looks in the wrong place. I will focus on reading. Reading has to do with the soul engaging and grasping the idea (logos) of a text, not remembering the content that embodies the idea. But because we are culturally opposed to the soul and to the logos, we focus our attention on very limited faculties like critical thinking and, to a much lesser extent, memory.

The goal of reading is apprehension. Beyond a few very general ideas, I’m not sure anybody has come close to comprehending how we go about apprehending when we read. I suspect that much of our reading instruction makes students to self-conscious to be conscious of the text.

That is why the best way to teach reading, after students have learned to decode, is by engaging in debates about the text read.

Sometimes, especially on a first read, the idea is better grasped (or maybe felt is a better word to use) through a quick read than through a close analysis. You don’t want to give premature attention to detail and comprehension. First, you simply want to encounter the text as what it is.

Apprehension comes later. I don’t think you can apprehend anything on a first read. The mind has too much work to do to grasp the idea embodied in a text in one or two reads, especially if the text is worth reading.

What to do then? Stop worrying about reading comprehension and attend instead to the point of the story or text. How do you do that? If it’s a story, discuss whether a character should have done something or what will be/are the consequences of a decision made. Then argue about it, using the text to answer the question. If it’s non-fiction, identify the point and discuss whether the author is right – or even comprehensible.

Then let the discussion go. You’ll find out something marvelous: reading is not eyes scanning symbols on a page, it is souls conversing over ideas.

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