Every now and then we get forwarded an article that confirms for us why we are doing what we are doing as teachers. I read this article, which is actually a lecture, by Neil Gaiman, about why books are what the 21st Century should be built on.
Yes, he is biased as an author and as an individual who benefits greatly on young people continuing to read stories…but his arguments, I feel, speak beyond his bias and point at the importance of developing a personalized reading program for children. These are the most salient reasons he gives for why reading (and reading fiction in particular) is crucial for developing our future generation of learners:
– Reading fiction teaches us that reading is pleasurable. Making this connection inspires us to keep reading. And the best way to teach young people that reading is fun is to allow them to choose their own books (even if they might be considered “less than” in the world of literature).
– All reading is good reading. Students will eventually move “rung by rung, into literacy”.
– Fiction builds empathy. This allows us to connect with other people in a profound way (especially in our ever more connected and interdependent world).
– It teaches creativity and innovation, by showing children, “The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”
I think that it is easy to misread 21st Century Learning as something all about using the latest apps on your iPad or using some snazzy feature on the SmartBoard to help parents feel justified in sending their children to an elite private school. But what purpose do these tools serve us? Are we just using technology to mask a traditional approach to learning? Or are we critically considering what skills we want our students to possess when they graduate to meet the demands of a brave new world? I hope that in my practice, I am leaning more towards the latter. I want to be the kind of teacher that carefully decides how these fantastic tools will be aiding my students’ learning and what larger purpose they serve.
Could it be that one of the most effective tools for preparing students for the future is an basic, old-fashioned book?