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Defining Readers–A good way NOT to do this, and you don’t want to see your teacher’s naked thoughts

February 16, 2009

Inside Higher Ed put out a particularly stupid piece of drivel, to which I was alerted by a rather insightful (maybe only because i am crush and therefor vain) Piss Poor Prof stating that the problem with poor readers is that they lack meaningful metaphors.  As a person who works in the field of learning disabilities, this is just the type of thing to piss me off.  The idiotic writer, Laurence Musgrove,  listed the following quote in their entrance to a spectacular failure of a pedagogical approach:

“But I was not a good reader. Merely bookish, I lacked a point of view. I vacuumed books for epigrams, scraps of information, ideas, themes — anything to fill the hollow within me and make me feel educated.”
—Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory

Note to Laurence:  someone who has written a book is not your first line struggling reader, but read on for tips.

Laurence’s misguided premise is that those who are “poor readers”  merely lack an abstract system by which they can understand the engagement they should seek with reading.  Mind you, our letters are a rather arbitrary system someone designed to try to use a sledgehammer to represent the finer points of our vocal utterances.  This is not a gentle translation the vocal language to a written meaning.   And Laurence decides that poor readers just need some strange metaphor (which he has written) to determine their efficacy in reading.  Yippee, let’s see what the wizened one suggests.  I quote Laurence here:

  • 1. Reading is grafting, and the reader connects new text to another text read.
  • 2. Reading is dancing, and the reader follows the lead and steps of the text, including its rhythm, music, lyric, genre, and flow.
  • 3. Reading is sorting, and the reader puts knowledge and experience and dramatic elements of text into categories.
  • 4. Reading is surveying, and the reader examines the territory of the book, its surface, size, structure, scope, distinguishing features, divisions, boundaries, etc.
  • 5. Reading is integrating, and the reader incorporates new knowledge into other knowledge; blending and kneading together.
  • 6. Reading is counting, and the reader is concerned with the number of pages in the text or how many pages are left until they can escape the text (also envision the image of a prisoner marking off days on calendar).
  • 7. Reading is soaking up, and the reader absorbs the text like a sponge.
  • 8. Reading is a vehicle, and the reader travels to another place.
  • 9. Reading is eating, and the reader consumes and is nourished (or poisoned) by the text.
  • 10. Reading is a mirror, and the reader sees reflection in text.
  • 11. Reading is a machine, and the reader feeds the text through a mechanical process.
  • 12. Reading is a transaction, and the reader and text exchange value: the reader receives knowledge and experience, the text receives meaning, and the newly produced response is the receipt or proof of the transaction.
  • 13. Reading is exercise, and the reader gains intellectual agility and strength.
  • 14. Reading is mining, and the reader digs into the text for answers.
  • 15. Reading is a good investment, and the reader’s efforts pay off.
  • 16. Reading is planting, and the reader receives seeds of knowledge that grow into new understanding.
  • 17. Reading is unwrapping, and the reader opens the text to reveal a hidden message.
  • 18. Reading is translating, and the reader moves the meaning from one language to another.
  • 19. Reading is a friend, and the reader enjoys the companionship of the text.
  • 20. Reading is wrestling, and the reader struggles with the text.

God save us from the idiots!  Truly, I could have lived without this manifesto into some freaky teacher’s list of how he loves reading.  Yikes.  You know how students always talk about wanting to see their teacher naked?  Well, after reading this, I really don’t.  Nope, not even a little bit.

What seems to confuse Laurence gravely is the idea that readers just don’t understand why the struggle is worth it.  Let me tell you, Laurence, for some dyslexics, it’s not worth it.  After 2 hours of work, they get to understand that you don’t have fucking clue about their disability and want to use some idealistic approach to lecture them about how their daily struggle with the written language will all be worth it.  I would never give that advice, because it may not be worth it.  People like Laurence assume that the struggle of reading then endows a great reward.  Perhaps it does not.  Perhaps it is better to listen to a book on cd.  Perhaps the great meaning is in the voice.  Perhaps there is no great meaning at all, and the reader is let down that they have wasted some good moments of their lives on crap writing.

I would never presuppose that anything out there in the written word is justifiable commentary, and I would never presuppose that as a teacher.  Laurence, you could use an education.  Better yet, you could read some more about learning disabilities.

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