This afternoon as I waited in the carpool line to pick up my sons, I scrolled through my Facebook feed and noticed an NPR post titled, “Raising Kids Who Want to Read.” Given my recent struggles to get my 9-year-old to read, I clicked. I went on to read a Q&A with educator and author Daniel Willingham, who argues in a his new book that the most often cited reasons to read—that students who read more earn better grades or higher incomes later in life—are not actually the strongest arguments for reading.
For Willingham, the reason to read is simpler. “It’s a family value,” he says, “It’s something I love, something that I find important. I think I gain experiences I wouldn’t gain any other way by virtue of being a reader.”
This, ultimately, is why I read, and why I want my students and of course, my children, to read, too. To gain experiences I wouldn’t gain any other way. Reading transports us, makes us feel the lived experiences of others with different backgrounds, in different places, or from different time periods.
None of this is new, of course, but I don’t think we can take this fact for granted, especially because I’m not sure how many students—particularly more reluctant readers—can truly appreciate how powerful reading can be in this regard. Just today I had a student tell me that he thought Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock was “pretty good” (after reading it in one night). He said it made him understand a little bit better what it must be like for kids like the main character—a 17-year-old boy so severely depressed, misunderstood, and bullied that he decides taking his own life (and the lives of others) may be his only answer.
I’m reminded, again, of that line I always come back to in To Kill a Mockingbird—the line I first read more than twenty years ago when I was in high school: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
When I first started reading more YA literature a few years ago, I read it because I felt it was my responsibility, as a teacher, to know what my students were reading. It was, more or less, part of my job. But I discovered that reading YA lit also allows me to consider the world from a young adult’s point-of-view in a way that I hadn’t since I myself was a young adult. Yes, I spend all day around teens, but short of building a time traveling machine or switching bodies a la 17 Again, YA lit offers me another opportunity to “gain experiences I wouldn’t gain any other way.” It allows me to remember—especially on the days when I might feel my patience tried or compassion nearly exhausted—what it means to have empathy.
And what more important reason is there to read than that?
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.