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Developing a Reading Culture in the Age of Digital Revolution

According to Daniel Willingham in Reading After the Digital Revolution, one of the chief reading problems we have in the digital revolution, is the problem of boredom. There is a paradox to the problem: Even though we read more on the screen, we are more easily bored. Four seconds on a screen is too long. On the surface, we are very busy, but deep inside we are bored, as victims of the digital revolution. We are not only intellectually bored, but existentially bored. The cure to this insidious problem is reading. But reading is not a simple task. It is a complex science, and it requires a reading strategy, and a reading culture.

According to the latest research on the science of reading, people who read well and people who love to read 1) have good training in the building blocks of reading and 2) embrace a culture of reading. The former is the formal, systematic instruction in reading that includes phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, vocabulary development, and language comprehension. This is the kind of training that students in a school like ours receives—an Orton-Gillingham, phonics-based approach to learning reading.

The latter, a culture of reading, is something that we, as a community of teachers and parents, have to create for the children. It includes creating an atmosphere where good books are valued and enjoyed, developing regular habit of reading, limiting the use of screen and social media, cultivating a deeper purpose and joy of reading, and forming reading groups that foster the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.

The first step is creating an atmosphere where books are valued and enjoyed. Do you enjoy reading as parents? Do your children know your favorite books? Are good books readily accessible at home? Do you have quiet reading space at home? At Veritas, in addition to a rigorous reading program, most classes have bookshelves filled with good books and reading corners. At home, parents should create a “library” (even one row of books) for each of their children.

Creating a regular habit of reading must begin with parents because reading is contagious. When I was in Israel, I was challenged by the Jewish practice of reading the Scriptures before every meal. We can apply this discipline with any good book. In creating the discipline of reading, begin with a 20-minutes of reading without stopping, and then building up to an hour of uninterrupted reading.

On the importance of limiting the use of screen and social media, read Maryanne Wolf’s Reader Come Home. In this research-based book, Wolf argues cogently that in order to cultivate in our students “slower” and essential cognitive processes such as critical thinking, reflection, and empathy, all of which are aspects of deeper reading, we need to understand the negative impact of digital medium and develop a strategy for deeper reading.

But reading to what end? Reading is valuable for everything in life, but reading should have a deeper and higher purpose. In classical education, we call that cultivation of wisdom and virtue, but we must discern what wisdom and virtue means from a Christian perspective. How and what we read is important. That is why children need guidance and modeling in reading, and training in how to read well.

Finally, to cultivate a culture of reading, we need to form on-going reading groups that can share their reflections, so that the result is not only that everybody enjoys reading more and become better readers, but also so that more meaningful, dynamic relationships are formed, ones that honor and enjoy God. This results in a thriving community where there is no room for boredom, only for leisure, liveliness, and love.

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