Posts Tagged ‘education’

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Why Books Matter

May 31, 2010

One of my New Year’s resolutions was that I would post on this blog more. Well, better late than never.

On Postbourgie, Shani highlights an interesting study from the Chronicle of Higher Education blog. The study found that children who grew up in a house with 500+ books stay in school three years longer than kids who grew up in homes with fewer books.

Thus it seems that scholarly culture, and the taste for books that it brings, flows from generation to generation largely of its own accord, little affected by education, occupational status, or other aspects of class … Parents give their infants toy books to play with in the bath; read stories to little children at bed-time; give books as presents to older children; talk, explain, imagine, fantasize, and play with words unceasingly. Their children get a taste for all this, learn the words, master the skills, buy the books. And that pays off handsomely in schools.

It definitely worked for me. I was a bookworm to the max as a kid, reading so many books my parents sometimes asked me to read LESS and go spend some time outdoors playing kickball or whatever. Until high school, when I became too busy with academics and extracurriculars, reading for pleasure was one of my favorite things to do. In summers, I’d take a book and read outside. And when the weather was too hot to handle, I’d seek refuge in the air-conditioned library, full of hundreds of books and magazines.

Shani also points out in her post that not everyone can buy hundreds of books, and wonders where library memberships fit into this research – I’d have to agree that I wonder if kids whose parents hold library memberships and take them to the library regularly develop the same appreciation for reading and ideas. For me as a kid, getting to go the library was always a treat ; my parents took us almost weekly, and moreso in summer to help stave off boredom from not being occupied with school all week. Taking me and my brother to the library regularly was a good thing for them because it helped keep their kids occupied so we wouldn’t drive them up the walls at home. For us, though, I think it had a profound impact on how we grew up and what we value now. It instilled in both of us an interest in learning about the world around us, and taught us to question everything.

Today I’m on the internet almost all the time, but still have a lust for reading… I’ve just put a large part of my reading efforts into Google Reader. But I still love buying and reading fresh, clean, new books from bookstores, and think it’s incredibly important that today’s kids and students are still being encouraged to read books, and not the iPad kind. By the time I was in high school I was reading less books for pleasure – presumably because I was busy with academics, extracurriculars, and with trying to get into college, but I wonder if it also had something to do with the fact that the internet was growing in popularity by then. In high school I would much rather spend the hours after class IMing my friends (remember AOL ?!)  than reading a book; the only books I managed to read through those four years were the ones assigned to us in school.

I’ve written before about my questions on what will happen to books in an increasingly digital era; given the new research that’s out there about the impact books have on children as they grow, it seems books are more important than ever. I don’t think it matters whether the books are at home or in a library, as long as kids have access to books on a regular basis and are encouraged to read for pleasure, both by parents and teachers. That, I think, is what it takes to develop that “scholarly culture” found in bookish families – not just access to lots of books, but also encouragement from adults to kids to spend their time reading books.

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Strange how a single conversation can change you

February 18, 2009

About two weeks ago I started volunteering at the Intensive English Institute’s Convo Partner program here in Champaign. IEI is filled with international students taking intensive English classes, and the Convo Partners program allows them to be paired up with a buddy or “Convo Partner” who they meet with once a week and converse with in order to practice their English.

So, I meet with my  Convo Partner, who is from Saudi Arabia, every week. Her English isn’t too good, so sometimes we revert to my broken Arabic. Every week for an hour or two, I leave behind my laptop and work and school, shut off my Blackberry, and talk with this girl about her life. And every week,  I come away learning things I never knew I never knew. It’s surreal to be exposed to such a completely different worldview and step outside your own little bubble for a little while.

I think a lot of people, in our oversaturated, information-overloaded culture, don’t recognize the value of every single conversation you have. But to these students, every conversation is special. It’s a chance to practice their English and develop their confidence.

It’s also a chance to make friends with an American — many international students have told me that the American students they try to talk to in their classes are unfriendly and unwilling to talk to them; they’re too wrapped up in their own lives and their own friends. So as a result, they hang out exclusively with other international students who are in the same boat as them.

Hearing that almost angers me. Why are so many of us so brusque and unwilling to talk to people? It takes a lot of courage  to be an international student in America who barely speaks the language — and it takes a lot to put yourself out there and try to learn English and make new friends with people who speak the language far better than you.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Convo Partner, it’s that a single conversation does matter. And how you treat that conversation matters.

I’ve learned to listen more than I talk.

I’ve learned to pay attention to every detail, and never, ever steal a glance at my phone or anything else.

I’ve learned to be more patient while she finds the right words.

I’ve learned to slow down from my usual breakneck pace and think through my words more.

I’ve learned to be far more understanding of where the other person is coming from.

So I know our generation’s tendency is to multitask and do 15 things at once, and as a result we rarely give our full attention to every conversation that  comes our way. We’ll ignore many conversations simply because we’re too “busy.” But I encourage you to choose to engage that person instead — because you’ll never know how a single conversation can change you.

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