Essay for WRIT101

3 09 2010

Note: At the beginning of Chapter 2 of Bruce Ballenger’s ‘The Curious Writer’, he creates a silly, fictional internal dialogue in the mind of an imaginary teen-to-college-age kid. It mostly involves being upset about learning things, wanting to eat potato chips, and wondering if the apparently omnipresent Ballenger can read their thoughts. It is very, very silly.
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Aside from his not-at-all asinine assumption that my internal dialogue sounds like a very hungry, paranoid teenager, Bruce Ballenger’s article about ‘Reading as Inquiry’ brought up some very good points. When reading, the vast majority of us do so simply for information, or requirement, or pleasure, but rarely as a method of questioning or investigation. Seldom do we read with the ferocious intent to delve into the heart of an issue, tear the meaning into pieces, and hungrily analyze it.
This is, honestly, because that kind of drive is exhausting, and as domesticated human beings we’ve had most of our ferocity bred out of us. But, when toned down a little bit, the idea is sound. Why shouldn’t we seek to learn more from our reading, after all? In understanding how we digest what we read, and how we can enhance that capability, we can improve not just our grades in class and our standing in school, but our capacity to truly understand the ideas and motives of others. Who in this class has read Mein Kampf? Lolita? If my parents had paid any attention when they nervously and furtively read The Catcher in the Rye, they probably could have handled my angst-ridden fourteen year-old self much more capably.
Having said that, admittedly, I’m not much of an investigative reader. I like reading, and I read often, but I mostly read novels and entertainers, because being in college I have had just about enough of education. On numerous occasions, I’ve picked up scientific documents, describing animal biology, physiology, and evolution, but those instances were motivated either by personal interest in the subject presented, or an overwhelming desire to win an argument. In most instances, I already know the subject fairly well. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t even be having an argument about it, and I wouldn’t need to win it because it wouldn’t exist. I don’t pick up and investigate engineering manuals, or my mother’s little monthly prayer booklets, because neither topic interests me much.
To give students the opportunity to read like Dr. Gregory House does, you must present them with, or allow them to present themselves to material that piques their interest. Not every student will be interested in research projects involving the life and times of eighteenth-century novelists and poets, and while this doesn’t mean students should never be made to write a paper about eighteenth-century novelists and poets, they shouldn’t need to do so unless absolutely required to. A student’s introduction to research must be stimulating, to prepare the skills they’ll require to someday write a passable report about eighteenth-century novelists and poets.
Reading with aggressive intent to learn doesn’t have to occur one-hundred-percent of the time. Part of why people like myself enjoy reading is its casual and free nature – attaching significance to leisurely activities only tends to make them tedious, and later reflection and analysis of readings can still provide plenty of information. However, for timeliness’ sake, it is important to learn how to quickly read and effectively process what one reads, and how to categorize newfound knowledge in one’s personal lexicon.

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