The Conspiracy of Reading and Reflection: Why ‘they’ do not want people reading
We spend so much of our lives in school, so I find it pretty shocking that more and more students simply are not ready for college-level reading tasks:
Further, there is a long, steady decline of literary reading:
Students spend thousands of hours of their free time online, but they certainly are not spending it educating themselves.
None of this may be new to you, but it is concerning that most simply do not care. Who needs reading, I guess, when people have thousands of hours of entertainment at their fingertips? Who needs reading when we have video games, apps, and YouTube? Besides, how is this a conspiracy? Perhaps it is simply the result of a technological age we are in?
I think it goes deeper than that, and I do think there is a collective “agenda” for getting people to devalue the process of reading and reflection. To put it simply, the limits of our language are the limits of our world (Ludwig Wittgenstein).
In this post, I want to argue that there are several conspiracies regarding reading and reflection, the biggest being that without the ability to read critically, people really can never wake up. No matter a person’s life circumstances, I think it is extremely difficult to wake up without the ability to read and think for oneself (or even impossible, really).
The Decline of Reading
So, why are people reading less? By the way, for the sake of this post, I am not going to consider reading Instagram comments and such as the type of reading I am talking about. The type of reading I am talking about is academic reading, or reading to learn or grow in some way.
In other words, “In “The Gutenberg Elegies,” Sven Birkerts laments the loss of “deep reading,” which requires intense concentration, a conscious lowering of the gates of perception, and a slower pace.”
Reading is a discipline, and that is the problem in our world of instant…well everything. From the same article,
“Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows” analyzes the phenomenon, and its subtitle says it all: “What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” Carr spells out that most Americans, and young people especially, are showing a precipitous decline in the amount of time spent reading. He says, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” A 2016 Nielsen report calculates that the average American devotes more than 10 hours per day to consuming media—including radio, TV, and all electronic devices. That constitutes 65 percent of waking hours, leaving little time for the much harder work of focused concentration on reading.”
Quite simply, people have lost the ability to discipline themselves to read, largely due to technology, and we will talk more about that later.
Bullied for Being Smart?
The other issue I want to discuss is a little more complex than this – the perception of reading and intellectualism. In our society, it is good to be smart, but nobody should ever be “too smart.” I remember, growing up, I was certainly not unpopular. Still, during study hall, I loved reading books, and other students would come up to me and ask me why I was reading. Reading simply is not “cool”, and it is not promoted as such. You never hear celebrities telling kids to read or anything like that. Rather, kids are being taught to consume, consume, and consume.
While the perception of ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’ has evolved over time, the only time true intelligence seems to be valued is when it has to do with money, technology, materialism, and consumerism. Learning to simply just learn, though, is not valued in our society.
As your may or may not know, there is a dark side to being considered “very intelligent”, especially for students, and they are often victims of bullying:
But again, why? That is where the larger conspiracy comes in – it is okay to be smart, just not too smart, and really, this just goes back to “group think” and human psychology:
According to one study, “Rimm said she suspected that bullying might be less a problem for gifted children who are grouped together, as in many Washington area school systems that have magnet academic programs.”
This is where I need to stop and expand. I have a belief that all children have the potential to be extremely smart. I was labeled “gifted” in school, and while I think gifted education is important, I think there is a problem behind it. There will always be a small percentage of kids who are genetically and naturally gifted, but I would like to argue that we dismiss environment when it comes to education. We dismiss the importance and influence of environment. I am not joking when I say that I believe any kid can be really smart, and it is a matter of environment more than genetics. Of course, there will always be a range of intelligence, and I am not denying “giftedness” as a concept; however, I believe that the perception of intelligence as fixed in our society is a huge problem.
Looking back at my environment, I had a terrible home life, but I was always encouraged to read, for hours and hours. My dad would leave books for me about Buddhism when I was 10 years old – complex texts about substantial spiritual topics, and I would read them. Though my relationship with my father has always been shoddy, I have no doubt that this directly impacted my life positively.
Right now, research is saying that the way we have viewed intelligence for the last hundred years or so is simply wrong. It is not fixed, and almost everybody has the potential to learn and grow, especially when they are young! There is real research about this, and it is called “growth mindset”:
I utilize this in my classroom daily, and it works. No matter what level my students are at, they can grow and learn.
So, yes, there is always going to be the genetic component to intelligence, but we need to realize that our environments do impact our student potential. So, what exactly is wrong with the environment?
Crabs in a Bucket
We live in a society where most do not value other’s accomplishments, and social media simply makes people jealous of others and unhappy in general:
So, first of all, we live in a society where people are trained to be envious and competitive of those who are successful, and this is described as “crab mentality.” “If I cannot have it, neither can you:”
But, we need to go deeper than that. It takes a village to raise a child, after all, so what exactly is going on in the different environments children experience?
The students who I work with who are labeled as gifted almost always have loving, supportive parents who educate them at home. Today, too many leave education solely up to schooling, and that is a huge mistake:
More and more, teachers are responsible for teaching their students EVERYTHING, which has given parents a lack of responsibility at home. I cannot believe the things I am expected to teach my students at times, when I feel they should have learned much of this at home. By the way, this can go even deeper and many parents are simply overworked and cannot provide for their children the way they should. The last thing any parent wants to do after working all day, cooking dinner, and God knows what else, is try to teach their children. I do not blame them, really, because it is a societal issue. No longer do we have a parent at home staying home with the children. Whatever you believe about feminism, my dad said it was hilarious that they somehow convinced women to want to work 40 hours a week instead of staying home with their kids and raising them(controversial, I know, but think about it!).
Quite simply, teachers are expected to parent, and parents do not have time to parent:
Schools are Failing
Again, we spend so much of our lives in school, yet there are STILL students who are not ready for college. This is ridiculous. I could probably write an entire book on the problems with modern education (and I have written many posts about it), but it is my belief that they are currently and purposely failing public schools in order to privatize education. Privatization of education means there is a profit involved. This is a complex topic, but there is more about it here:
The article has some interesting points, but this really stood out to me:
From the article, “Or take the issue of poverty. Most teachers agree that poverty is no excuse for lousy schooling; much of our work is about proving that the potential of our students and communities can be fulfilled when their needs are met and the reality of their lives is reflected in our schools and classrooms. But in the current reform debates, saying poverty isn’t an excuse has become an excuse for ignoring poverty.”
This leads to me to my next point. There is a huge issue of poverty in our country that is largely ignored. Teachers are expected to work miracles in areas of severe poverty
(like where I work). We are ignoring the fact that many of the criseses in education today are really about criseses in poverty and the lives of children in general. Education cannot fix the consequences of poverty:
Schools are a reflection of society. The schools that are failing are simply schools that are trying to work miracles in areas where people are living in an immense poverty. You can be the greatest teacher in the world, but you are not going to fix systematic injustices in equality in your classroom alone.
Look, I would not be a teacher if I did not feel I have the ability to help or change people, but no matter how many times they try to twist it, nothing is going to change until we work on issues of class and true inequality. While people are arguing over what restroom some guy wants to use, we have kids who are still not getting their basic needs met in our country. Intergenerational poverty is real, and there are severe consequences:
We are telling these kids if they just work hard enough, they will be successful in life. That is a complete lie. The “American Dream” is deceptive:
So, I am going off on a tangent here, but what I am getting at is we are dismissing the fact that problems in education come from larger societal issues. The effects of poverty on learning, education, and reading in general, are so immense and so dismissed. The last thing these kids in poverty doing is reading, and that is what ‘they’ want:
Keeping People Down
I know I got a little off track, but I really thought about the power of reading, and this goes beyond schooling. There is so much beyond my control as a teacher, but I think that anybody and everybody can learn to read. But, what, really is the value of reading itself? I was thinking how funny it is that so many teachers tell their students to read, but they never adequately explain why reading is important:
1) Reading can help you travel anywhere you want. This may sound corny, but not everyone can afford to travel. If you have the ability to read, and read well, you can literally travel anywhere in the world. You can learn almost anything through reading. Of course, I think experience is the best teacher, but reading is there when you cannot afford an experience. Reading builds empathy, experience, and perspective. Reading literary fiction improves empathy:
2) A lot of people spend a lot of their time watching movies and television. The problem with that is essentially these programs are doing the thinking for us. Most people watch and listen to things they already believe in, and there simply is no critical thinking involved. There are tons of studies on the downfalls of watching too much television (or similar media):
Further, when we read, we have to critically think to build the experiences in our mind. This requires higher order thinking, and it is likely the reason why the movies are never as good as the books. We spent time constructing a world in our minds based off of what we read. When we watch a movie, the world is there, as it is, and it requires little critical thought:
“Once a filmmaker decides upon settings and characters, we’re limited to seeing those characters and settings through their eyes. However, 500 different readers of the same book may have 500 different ideas of a character’s appearance.”
Reading builds our imagination and our critical thought processes. Unfortunately, the upcoming generation is not learning to examine what they watch. When you read something, yes, there is always a bias, but the bias is not as strong when compared to viewing something visually. When a child watches something, there is so much going on, and it may be difficult to pick up on every little thing. For example, here is a channel called “Queer Kids Stuff”:
There is A LOT going on, and this is aimed at children. It moves quickly, and if these children have not yet developed prominent critical thinking skills, they might simply believe what is being told to them without questioning it.
3) Finally, reading (and education in general) is the equalizer. When I am talking about education, I am not necessarily talking about schooling. As most of us know on a conspiracy forum, schooling is more about indoctrination than anything. If people really want to be educated, reading is the true path. While I find teachers extremely important, I tell my students that they can actually be their own teachers! I guide them, always, of course, but at a certain point, the highest level of thinking is teaching oneself. Students are reliant on schools to teach them, when anybody can learn anything at anytime for free, even the very poor! In a world full of unlimited information, most are not using it to learn, and that is what concerns me. When given a choice, there is just too much distraction. Is a student going to watch the mindless cat video, or use their time to learn another language? What do you really think?
Reading gives us the ability to explore so many different worlds and perspectives. If people, in general, are reading less, they simply are losing the ability to see the world from many points of view. I mean, why do you think slaves historically are limited to be able to learn to read and write (or the lower classes in general?)
Why do you think the elite send their children to the best of the best schools in the world?
Reading is education and education is power.
Finally, reading teaches people self-reflective skills, and that seems to be declining in our society:
“Learning from texts is an essential skill for college success, and in an increasingly complex and interconnected world it is ever more important that students develop the intellectual and practical skills for lifelong learning. The aim of this project was to evaluate the impact of reading reflections on student reading, learning, and self-awareness as learners. Students submit reading reflections after completing each reading assignment. These reflections not only encourage students to read more regularly, they also promote content mastery and foster student development of monitoring, self-evaluation, and reflection skills. For the instructor, reading reflections can also be used to facilitate ‘just-in-time’ teaching. Our results thus far confirm that the introduction of reading reflections in our courses has resulted in significant improvements in student reading and course performance.”
Many students have difficult reading “boring” texts, but this is where they are not understanding and where they are being misled.There is value in reading all types of texts, even the boring ones. The value is the ability to reflect on different things, like “Why is the text boring to me?” “Why didn’t I like it?”
In a world where people feel the need to be constantly entertained, we have forgotten that boredom can be good and promote creative thought:
Can reading be boring? YES! And teachers need to stop lying to their students. Reading can be boring, but it is what we do with the reading that makes it interesting and engaging. Reading is a discipline. We teach students, in athletics, for example, the power of repetition and practice, but we are not teaching them about reading.
Teachers today are so expected to entertain, that students are losing the ability to be bored and learn to discipline themselves so that they can learn something new.
This is a huge downfall in education today. Teachers are afraid of boring their students (and I do not blame them), but I have learned entertainment is NOT engagement. If you are a parent or teacher reading this, you can engage students by giving them purpose behind what they are doing. For example, I always give my students research-based reasons why I do things in my classroom. You may not think they care, but they do. Nobody wants to waste their time, and that is what is happening in classrooms. Again, students are spending years sitting there, never learning anything, and not even being prepared for college. Something is wrong here.
When we teach students the art of self-reflection, we are teaching them to examine their world critically.
When I was writing this post, I was thinking about how to get people to “wake up.” I have a belief that experience is what helps most people wake up, which is why ‘they’ keep most people in their little, comfortable bubbles. If people live monotonous lives, working and never really having the ability to leave their bubbles, they may never have the ability to question reality (Truman Show?). No matter what race, religion, or background, the ability to read allows people to wake up. People can explore the questions of the universe, even if they are very poor, tired, ill, depressed, distraught, whatever. Wherever somebody is in life, they can always read and learn.
I think this quote is quite relevant:
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. —Frederick Douglass”
Reading is freedom. We are getting to a point where more and more is censored, and we may even lose the ability to speak freely in a world of political correctness, but I always think, they can never take my mind away (I mean they could, but I will not let them.)
If nothing else, we have the power to read and learn, and they can burn all the books they want, and censor anything they want, but I have this belief that humans will always find a way.
I am not saying that you have to read a novel every day. I am saying that, in general, if people used reading as their main source of “entertainment”, this world would be a better place.
By the way, I think it is great to get kids to read things that they do not like! We need to stop constantly trying to make everything perfect and comfortable. Discomfort helps us learn, in the end:
“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his needs, is good for him.” —Maya Angelou
“16. We read to know we are not alone. —C.S. Lewis”
Why do I write so much on Reddit? Why do I spend so much time here.? Because it helps me know I am not alone. It gives me faith and hope in the world.
If you read all of this, thank you! And I never include tldrs for my posts because it simply amazing when somebody has the discipline to read it all.
“But nobody reads. Don’t believe people read in this country. There will be a few professors that will read the record… the public will read very little.” – Allen Dulles
falsescorpion: I don’t know about the internet causing the decline of attentive reading (as a practice). If you look back at popular American authors of the 1800s, you can see that something drastic has happened and that it started long before the internet came about.
Who, these days, could actually sit down and tackle a door-stopper novel like *Moby-Dick* or *Last of the Mohicans?* And that’s just on their sheer size. Once you’ve got beyond the title-page, you discover huge and complicated sentences, rippling with nuance and subtlety.
You have to get to grips with the thoughts and actions of lots of characters (including, usually, the narrator), not all of which will be clear at first encounter and may actually turn out to be misleading.
And you have to metabolise a huge amount of ‘scenery’ – the background historical/environmental/political/social/etc context(s) in which the characters are embedded.
Yet these novels were going into third, fourth, fifth printings of their first editions alone (meaning the initial supply ran out and another batch had to be printed immediately to satisfy demand), and then staying continuously in print for a fucking century!
Our ancestors were different in a lot of ways, socially speaking, but this is only two or three generations ago, and our brains haven’t taken an evolutionary leap in the meantime. Why did reading ability wither so dramatically, and when exactly did it happen?
CaptainApollyon: Ironically I didn’t read your post but it is interesting that speed reading is such an easy skill to learn yet they never even mention it in most schools.
toxic_banana: Have you ever read Fahrenheit 451?
Fighter9595: I’m glad you’re a teacher. You seem like the kind of teacher I would want my kid to have someday.
Smiley_Iris: Do some f–king math as well. Don’t people realize it increases your thinking capabilities? These kids that say you don’t need higher levels of math when it comes to the real world.
Step2TheJep: > it is concerning that most simply do not care
I also used to find it concerning. These days, not so much. It is what it is.
Even on this sub, among people who (ostensibly) are aware that great deceptions are taking place, you will find that most are entirely apathetic and unwilling to invest even a small amount of time into genuine, independent research. And that is okay, it is what is.
In my experience the most rewarding thing we can do is find people who share our *willingness to think for oneself*, and *ability to reconsider preexisting beliefs*, and focus our energies on these people, rather than on the lemming masses.
irishbastard3000: I am currently teaching my four year old daughter how to read and the importance of it. Thanks.
rigbed: I don’t think there’s a conspiracy. Reading is not a fundamental animal trait so humans are going to have to force themselves to partake in it when their IQ isn’t as high.
? or ? or ? doesn’t matter. People would rather look at photos and videos of humans doing human things than think and read.
IanPhlegming: Another very well done piece. Bravo to you!
Mescalean: Ha long post but good will have to reread and reflect after dinner. What Are your thoughts in “listening to books” because I have a coworker who insists its the same because of his dyslexia.