Love and utility

I often hear parents say “I want my child to love reading – I want her to find the same joy in it that I do.”  I also hear “He has to be able to read – to get by in the world!  He’ll need reading for everything!” And then there are the inspiring declarations that fly around in the education world, about raising lifelong readers, teaching all children to love books, etc.  We think that this is what it takes to get kids reading.  Make a big scene about it; instill (insist on) a love of it.

But not everyone loves reading. And when we’re too attached to getting kids to love things we love, we often undermine our own intentions with respect to getting them to learn what we think it will be helpful for them to know.  With something as potentially useful as reading, it’s a good idea to disentangle our wish that children might hold it as precious as some of us do from our wish that they know how to do it.  If we didn’t despair when a child finished a book and shrugged – “Yeah, it was OK.  Can I go outside now?” – when reading was just another thing to do, something useful but not necessarily that enticing or enthralling, we wouldn’t face as much resistance to it. And many kids would take to it more quickly and easily.  They wouldn’t have to try to pretend to like something they don’t.  They wouldn’t have to worry about disappointing us.  They could just learn how to do the thing, for whatever they might be able to use it for.

And, of course, the more space we give kids to have their own relationships with something like reading, the more possible it becomes for them to be inspired to love it in its own right, for their own reasons.

See also Alan Jacobs’ piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed…