Things I Know 64 of 365: A balanced reading diet is an important part of this complete teacher

Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.

– Charles Scribner, Jr.

In their book Subjects Matter, Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman outline the importance of helping our students construct a balanced reading diet. Speaking of the need for such a balance of text consumption across all disciplines, Daniels and Zemelman write about the importance of fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, websites, books, magazines, blogs and anything else.

By feeding our students a monoculture or near monoculture of texts, we do them a disservice. Reading is a diverse act.

I’ve been attempting to remind myself of this lately.

While re-reading Daniels and Zemelman I’m also reading Nel Noddings’ Caring. Every once in a while, I pick up Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. I just finished Sam Chaltain’s American Schools. Next up is Kathleen Cushman’s Fires in the Mind. During reading time in class, I’ve been re-reading Volume 5 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 comics so I can finally read my newly purchased copies of Volumes 6 and 7.

Over the last 12 months, I read David Perkins’ Making Learning Whole because Gary said I should. I also picked up Democracies in Flux by Robert Putnam, Eating Animals by Johnathan Safran Foer, A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne, DIY U by Anya Kamentz and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

This is to say nothing of the countless pieces of first-rate long-form journalism I’ve consumed thanks to longform.org, articles encountered by trolling reedit, links grazed through twitter and whatever friends send me through e-mail.

If I haven’t been lying to my students, and everything is a text, then the TED Talk, This American Life, Planet Money, Moth Theater and Dinner Party Download podcasts must also go on the list.

While my food diet is most certainly corncentric, my reading diet is not.

It shouldn’t be.

If I’m to do my job as best I know how, it can’t be a monoculture.

My grad school assignments regularly require that I use the course materials within my annotated reference list. They go so far as to allow for the use of individual chapters within the same book to be used a separate lessons so we need not stray too far from the prescribed reading.

My last reference list had 12 entires and the minimum 2 course-assigned entries.

It struck me as I was compiling the list how much of a disservice the program is doing to the students of those other members of my cohort who only referenced the two books and decade-old DVD segments.

Too many ideas are floating in the world.

My friend Jeff is working to answer the question of what kind of school he would like to lead. He pinged me tonight to ask what texts he could reference to get the pedagogical language that serves as the cognitive infrastructure for what we do at SLA.

Though he was likely hoping for one or two, I listed quite a few more than that and am still thinking of minds he should be looking into.

The best ideas I’ve ever eaten were cooked by the combination of ingredients from several sources.

It’s a type of communal individualization.

I used to know a principal who could be counted upon to have her faculty read a different book each year. They’d come back from summer break to find their copies of the text of the year waiting in their mailboxes. Each year, the processes from the previous year’s text were laid down in favor of this new book’s frame of mind.

In the same way a body will deteriorate if you feed it only one food, the teaching in the school became ideologically thin. If the principal had asked the teachers to read what they were interested in and share what they were reading, think of the culture shift.

I’ve heard the arguments why teachers don’t have room for reading. Family and friends come into play. They are so exhausted by their teaching days that they cannot fathom picking up texts that asks their minds to return to the classroom.

My answer is unapologetically simple – Don’t watch that episode of Law & Order: Akron or House Hunters Antarctica. Cut an hour or 30 minutes of vegetating and play in a text.

But, there’s one remaining rule:

If you only read one book about education this year – don’t.

My teaching is better because I move between Perkins, Whedon and Bryson or turn my back on them entirely for the humorous simplicity of Oddly Specific.

I’m pretty sure my brain is happier too.

4 thoughts on “Things I Know 64 of 365: A balanced reading diet is an important part of this complete teacher

  1. Just came across your blog and am happy I did. I just started my own blog and I think you'll be serving up some inspiration for me. So, thanks in advance! Keep doing good things, you have alot to offer. I look forward to catching up with your 63 other posts.

  2. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Understanding Poverty. I read it first years ago and thought it was fabulous. Since then my thinking on it has evolved and I'm less impressed. But every discussion I've ever had about it had pushed my thinking.

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