Learning to Dream Inside Your Mind
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
For the last 50 years children the world over have been entertained by the words and wisdom of Dr. Seuss. This quote from “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!” is one of my favorites. In addition to teaching me that reading is fun and that language itself can be entertaining, Dr. Seuss inspired me to think creatively and to entertain myself.
In this age of computers, video games, Netflix and literally hundreds of television channels, what is it about reading that continues to make it so important to a young person’s success in school and in life? Perhaps it is the fact that reading increases one’s knowledge, improves one’s vocabulary, helps expand language skills, fosters the development of critical thinking skills, and best of all enhances one’s ability to think creatively.
I have heard it said, “Knowledge is power.” Clearly the more one reads the more knowledge one has in the mental database. The trick is not so much what one reads, though I do recommend a variety of topics, but that one reads consistently. I recommend reading for pleasure on a daily basis for 30 minutes beyond what is required in school. When I was a boy, besides Dr. Seuss, my parents introduced me to “Tom Sawyer” with whom I whitewashed a fence, attended a funeral and solved a murder mystery. I sailed with pirates and searched for lost riches in “Treasure Island,” traveled into the future in “The Time Machine,” and explored the universe with my hero “Tom Swift.” Others read the “Hardy Boys” or “Nancy Drew.”
The point is my friends and I were reading, expanding our minds and enriching our vocabulary, learning to dream inside our minds in a way that movies or television never could match. I guess that is why I liked the emergence of Harry Potter. When the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,” was published, it seemed no matter where I went, parents, students or complete strangers all were reading, and often re-reading, Harry. In my own home, I found myself drawn to reading about his adventures just so I could join in the conversation as my three children eagerly discussed the intricacies of his adventures.
It is a well-established fact that reading expands one’s vocabulary and enhances one’s writing ability. It should not be lost on anyone that both of these skills are measured by the SAT and ACT and greatly valued by colleges. If one becomes an avid reader and reads a variety of material, from a variety of authors and genres (fiction and non-fiction), one cannot help but be exposed to new words, phrases, idioms, and learn how the authors employ different techniques to express their ideas and tell their stories. By reading on a regular basis interests are broadened, fluency is improved and communication skills are enhanced.
Developing strong reading skills also helps to expand important critical-thinking abilities. By avidly reading, students enhance their ability to comprehend complicated concepts and ideas. At Blake, we have long believed by seeking to develop this important skill we are helping our students to think for themselves and to make informed decisions. I also believe students who display this ability are very attractive to colleges, and they have a way of standing out in the classroom and on their applications.
While creativity is enhanced by reading, it remains a skill that is tough to measure, I do think it is readily recognizable, somewhat akin to what former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once so famously said about pornography, “I know it when I see it,” and colleges do as well. Unlike watching a movie or a television show, when you read a book, you are the interpreter of what the author is telling you. As the reader, you are your own producer, director, cinematographer and choreographer. Books allow our students to develop in their mind’s eye what a particular character looks like or to imagine how a particular scene plays out. Reading thereby feeds one's imagination and cultivates those elusive creative-thinking skills. Creativity that is produced for you in a movie or on television just cannot measure up. As the famous American sage Groucho Marx once said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
This is not to say that media and computers are all bad or do not develop some of the important critical-thinking skills and understanding of complex ideas. In fact, they too can be used to promote many of the same skills when applied correctly. I once worked with a student who, like Kipling’s “Elephant’s Child,” had an insatiable curiosity. At night, he would begin his homework by researching one topic online and several hours later awoke to find that he had explored many different topics, often at the expense of the one that originally started his search. In time, he became so well read (books and the internet) on so many topics, his peers and teachers recognized he knew something about everything and that he was also very well read. While he was not accepted to every college to which he applied, colleges did find him fascinating. In the end, the school he attended was a good match for his inquisitive mind. Perhaps proving what former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy said back in the 1960s, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books (and reading) is the best of all.”