Books: Friend and Foe.

books (1)

Books and reading are becoming an important question in education systems; how many? which ones? how often? Even problem solving is confined to the few formulas in the textbook which can all be related, what about applying those skills and children being able to use their minds to unlock the answers; not just read a book. Rousseau claimed in the 18th Century that ‘Children who read do not think, they just read’. And it is a similar idea to that which I am writing this post over. How much do we learn from books, especially if we are told which books to read?

Everyone will be different but when I read a good book I notice various ideas and information which is not necessarily relevant but it means something to me. In Peter James’ ‘Dead’ Series I found out that every person walks slightly differently, their ‘gait’, and that you can be identified over this idea. In this sense books can be a brilliant source of information you may not have otherwise encountered. But from reading Lord of the Flies and Pride and Prejudice (both okay books) there was nothing I can remember. And I do not believe this is because the books themselves dont hold information, I just wasn’t looking when reading at school. This may depend on the type of person, reading has to be intrinsically worthwhile for children to appreciate it; being forced to read will not encourage reading.

 Encouraging reading from an early age has been seen to work in increasing standards of schooling; a local school to me has received an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted report which they claim is due to reading. This shows that reading can be valuable in general (fiction reading and reading for pleasure, not textbooks). See the article here. These sorts of skills which children learn at a young age can aid progression in other areas. 

Maybe to encourage reading but not to force certain ideals from books onto children is a better alternative. Having them choose the book, let them find some information out about the story or the purpose of the book and decide for themselves why they would or wouldn’t like to read it. Even Rousseau let Emile (1762) read one book; Robinson Crusoe, so that he could learn skills such as self dependency which is crucial for thriving on your own and can be applied to various situations. 

Text books are of course different, they are still useful and do hold the knowledge, their purpose is to educate. But with so many key theorists proposing active learning ideas it is clear that you must engage children through interaction, not just by reading information passively. Examples of theorists are; Vygotsky (Published 1964) and his Zone of Proximal Development, Piaget with discovery learning, John Dewey who was a pioneer for progressive learning, Fredrich Frobels who created the first kindergarten which focused on play an activity… the list goes on. Textbooks limit learning: there is little inquiry, activity, questioning or original thinking. Answers are passed from one child to another, right or wrong, no alternatives. They had their use in their own time, they were created to give information which had previously been lacking, but now with so many alternative sources they have become outdated, they are not able to keep up with the changing world. In science I had a textbook which still had Pluto listed as a planet years after it had been changed. It confuses, I’m still confused now and just had to Google the answer in case it had changed again. (It is now a dwarf-planet if anyone cared) What sort of education is that? 

Books can be the source of such imagination, constantly more stories are thought up, often similar to other books but it the literacy, the style which can sometimes captures audiences. The use of textbooks should be minimal, they should not be relied on.

The skills children will learn through inquiry and questioning will stay with them for much longer than a passage in a textbook.



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