I like to read, and I learn a lot by reading. My boys are not keen readers, though they enjoy being read to and my third son is beginning to read more for pleasure than his brothers have done. However, my thinking is challenged by just how much can be learned without reading. My husband is not a keen reader either. Everyone is different. Why should one way of learning be considered better than another?
My eldest son conducted a piece of research into Buddhism recently. An RE lesson at school sparked his interest, but it was his idea to go and interview some local Buddhist monks and to ask them some ultimate questions. Having gone to the effort of organising and conducting the interview and recording it, he put it into a slideshow and took it into school to show his class. It happened that the teacher didn't realise the presentation contained video (she needed to click on the image), so rather skipped over a valuable piece of learning, an opportunity to bring a real Buddhist voice into her classroom. Now I know that she will have been pushed for time, and my son didn't want to insist on trying to get the video to work, but I was frustrated that all his efforts were not seen and recognised. I kind of harangued him about it. Why did he not tell the teacher to click and play the video? Why didn't he go back the next day and show her again so that she could see what he had done? He just shrugged nonchalantly ... He wasn't bothered. "Mum," he said, "I wanted to do the interview and I did it. It's fine." He had undertaken the project for his own sake - because he wanted to learn. He wasn't bothered about the teacher's recognition or the merit he might attain. It was a piece of learning for learning's sake. Extrinsically rewarded, school-educated, gold star, A-grade seeking me! I was chastised!
My boy had some homework which was a half term's English project. As I have said, this is not his favourite subject, and he was supposed to have read some autobiography and undertaken some creative responses to his reading. As English tasks go, I thought it was rather nice, as a number of options were given including a drawn response. Well, my son's effort was mediocre to say the least. The problem is, I know what he is capable of, so I asked him if he felt this work was his best effort. "Well, no," he admitted, "but I'm not really interested in this, Mum, so why spend more time on it?" Well, why? Because you have to? Because the teacher has told you to do it? Because you might get a merit, or not get a detention? Even as these answers go through my mind, I realise how empty they are. "Because you want to do credit to yourself, to put your best effort into everything, to be the best that you can be"? The problem is that school almost thrives on mediocrity, almost encourages it. By providing a broad and balanced curriculum, we do not allow our young people to really dig in where they are interested or to apply themselves to those problems and challenges that really inspire and motivate them. Said son really wants to be an engineer. He has always been that way inclined. Although part of me still thinks, "But children should be given wide and varied opportunities and encouraged to try new things," are we really creating brilliant engineers by pressing them to read autobiography? The truth is, probably not.