Features Teaching and Learning

Reinvigorating Our Reading Culture

Written by Akeem Alao

Preamble

Unfortunate and so befuddling it is, the degree of consternation the beautiful tenet of reading suffers in the hands of many. Like an isolated Ebola-stricken patient, reading has been ostracized considering the percentage of readers to non-readers in contemporary times. Some would even say, albeit derisively, if you want to hide something from a man, the best place to hide it is in a book.

Damning. It is an

opprobrious opprobrium,

like Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon would bawl.

Truth be said, if this notion is not crushed early enough, our dream for a better tomorrow is, no doubt, a mere mirage coated with hallucinations, existent in a deep, long snoring-spiced sleep. We must wake up; we can’t continue like this! We can’t continue to wallow in the murky water of anti-reading abyss. Reading must resurrect from its deadly state.

The English Dictionary puts it well, where reading is defined as ‘the process of interpreting written language’. Meaning reading is dependent on interpretation of what is read. Hence, we can say, since learning is the aim of reading, to learn, we must read. And as we know, learning is what sharpens and shapes our lives. Thus, to regain freedom from the backside of redundancy to the spotlight of relevancy, reading must hold sway in our lives.

Owing to the level reading has been condemned to, it should, as expected, trigger questions from every thoughtful mind on why this is so. Whatever reason it may be, one thing is sure: a pig cannot know the value of gold. Only the thoughtful ones appreciate the Midas touch inherent in this discourse. Its vantages are as wide as the earth itself.

But then, ‘El incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat’ (‘he who asserts must prove’ i.e.), says a trite in law. Maybe – just maybe – if the benefits we stand to gulp by constant reading are unveiled before our eyes, the iris therein will dilate more to let in more light to see things from another dimension. A new deep-rooted love for this motif may then be re-established. Hopefully.

Benefits Derived from Reading

Reading has been the building blocks of the host of names topping the catalogue of the role models of many. Evident it is in the life of Oprah Winfrey, who, despite being abused at young age, was able to attain greatness as a result of being a book aficionado. She was named among The 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century by Times Magazine; also was nominated as the first African-American woman to become a billionaire, according to Forbes release of 2013 – same year she was honoured by Barack Obama with The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States.

Eminent also is Malcolm X, who, when asked what his alma matter is, replied saying ‘Books!’. His strive for the liberation of the blacks is something he achieved from his intellectual-marriage with books.

Also is Ben Carson, the renowned neurosurgeon, who came to prominence for his unprecedented feat of separating the Siamese twins – seven-months-old Patrick and Benjamin Binder – against all odds. The operation, which took twenty-two hours, still remains a spectacular landmark in the annals of medicine. His intelligence, nay perspicacity, is a subject of striking and compelling veneration. Nothing good comes easy, as they say. He is a product of effortless reading and avid affinity for learning. In his book, Gifted Hands, the narratives of his exploits with books, under the auspice of his mother is phenomenal. There, he wrote, ‘When you read, your mind must work by tasking in letters and connecting them to form words. Words make themselves into thoughts and concepts.

Developinggood reading habits is something like being a champion weightlifter. The champion didn’t go into the gym one day and start lifting 500 pounds. He measured his muscles, beginning with lighter weights, always building up, preparing for more. It’s same thing with intellectual feats. We develop our minds by reading, by thinking, by figuring things out ourselves.’

On the radar also are: Pat Utomi, Bill Gates, Japheth J.Omojuwa, Tolu Ogunlesi, Pius Adesanmi, and host of others who are movers and shakers in their various fields. The exploits in the lives of these individuals are perfectly in consonance with Harry S. Truman’s assertion that, ‘not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.’

Asa matter of fact, reading has been proven to be a repellent to senility and old-age related neuropathologies. In a research published in the journal, Neurology, carried out in Chicago, the cognitive abilities of 294 adults in their late 70s and 80s was surveyed on the basis of the amount of information-seeking activities they engaged in during their childhood, adulthood and late-life years. They were checked in on regularly for about six years, prior to their deaths, after which they examined their brains at autopsy for common brain lesions and dementia.

Those who participated in creative or intellectual past times like reading, in the course of their lives, were said to have about 32% slower late-life cognitive decline rate than those who seldom partook in this brainy enterprise. Established it was in this survey that late life memory preservation is strongly dependent on mental activeness during young age.

Aside from the foregoing, reading is, no doubt, a prototype for intelligence advancement and impeccable intellectuality. After all, intelligence is an offshoot of knowledge; and knowledge is bottled in learning through reading. The brain is a major benefactor in a reading soul. Ranging from improvement in vocabulary to robust mastery of language, from sharpening writing prowess to refining one’s thoughts, are few of many benisons embellished in this act. Just as Dr. Seuss once wrote,

the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,

. ..he couldn’t have been more correct.

Imagine a solvent to the innumerable acts of inhumanity plaguing our world! If only reading can glow and grow like never before, it will not only assuage these ineptitudes, it will force them into oblivion. This is conspicuously so, as contained in a research, titled ‘Short-and-Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain’, conducted at Emory University and published in the Brain Connectivity journal.

It was deduced that literary pieces – especially, fiction – enable people to understand others’ mental states, thereby, building loose emotional feelings and complex social relationships that characterize human societies. However, reading non-fiction materials was said to provide the cognitive function of the brain with a complete and tenacious workout – same thing exercise does to the body.

Simply saying, with reading a wide spread act, the emotional hiccups fouling our lives will be annulled like dust on a wet day.

Worthy of note also is that, contrary to the widely held belief that reading bores, and that it stresses one up, research says otherwise. Research clearly states that reading is a stress buster. One 2009 study by Sussex University researchers showed that reading may reduce stress by as much as 68%. David Lewis, a Cognitive Neuropsychologist ​gave the report saying to The Telegraph, that, ‘it really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination’. In the light of this, reading not just relaxes the body, it revitalizes it, making it boredom-free and, fully energetic.

Facts don’t lie, we all know. Without much ado, the tunnel still seems dark, as some don’t know where to go or what to do next. And some don’t even know the responsibilities owed by them. Hence, recommendations are eminent at this point.

Recommendations

Our elders would say:

a single finger can’t lift a load to the head’; also would they say, ‘a tree does not make a forest.

To reawaken the deadened reading activeness battling us, a collective effort must be geared towards this quest. It is a function of not just the government but, parents, schools, media houses, stakeholders, and even students have individual roles to play.

It is the convergence of these efforts that can make the actualization of the desire to reinvigorate our reading culture a reality.

How best can the emblem of reading be hoisted, than having a provision for it in our educational curriculum. The government should design a template to develop affinity for reading among students. Also, ultramodern libraries, stocked with good books, should be established all around the country.

Moreso, sponsorships and partnerships should be sought to ensure there is proper funding and maintenance. It should be part of their roles to make policies that will stimulate the growth of reading and writing in the country. If these are on ground, the rest will fall in line – left with no choice but to comply.

Parents’ responsiveness is key, too. Purchasing books for their wards should be a priority to them. And not just purchasing, encouragement to read and proper monitoring should be upheld. Parents should make their children understand what they stand to benefit if the act of reading is living in them. As a matter of fact, parents should start off by being avid readers first, then their children can follow suit; this will ease them to achieve the ultimate feat. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have. Hands must be on deck together with schools to drive this course forward to the promise land.

Furthermore all schools at various levels should cooperate with parents and the government and other concerned individuals to promote reading in our schools. Extracurricular activities should encapsulate the promotion of this culture. And since the conviction to ensure academic success is impossible without purposeful reading, methods of achieving success by reading should be thought in schools. Standard libraries should also be provided and maintained, encouraging visitation by students.

Also, relevant awareness should be created on media portals. Educative programs should grace the airwaves of our radio and television stations. Initiative like Oprah Winfrey’s on-air book club called ‘Oprah Book Club’ is a brilliant one, worthy of emulation. This can push publishers and authors to ensure relevant books are in circulation. Interesting programmes like book review, book reading and recommendation of books for public consumption should be aired to promote publicity. In addition, the notion of reading only to pass exams should be eschewed by students. They should read just for the sake of understanding and putting into practice, what is read. Love for reading should outweigh the wild love for music and sex – which is almost the vogue trend of our today society. Students should know that, it is their readiness to change that will make this course a reality, one that is far from being a cold day in hell.Projects like Rwanda Children’s Book Forum (RCBF), a project under Save the Children Organization, where publishers, the National Library, head teachers, journalists and other stakeholders in the education center were brought together to discuss how Rwanda can improve reading culture among the young ones, are what can also be imbibed by us. Stakeholders, NGOs and other philanthropists should come together to launch intellectually-rich projects for youths and every other person.

Competitions, scholarships, lectures, workshops and seminars should be organized by them to boast our enthusiasm and zest for reading.

CONCLUSION.

Now is the time. The time to nip the bean in bud! Now is the time to stop fanning the ember of negligence of reading. Now is the time to extinguish this burning fire inscribing indelible scars and dents on our tomorrow. We can’t afford to watch our reading culture continue to plummet into the ditch of doom. Should this be left to thrive, we will be as good as dead. A reading society is living society, as they say:

  • So, a nonreading society is a nonliving society!

Akinpelu Yusuff writes from the University of Ibadan.

About the author

Akeem Alao

Akeem Alao trained as a language teacher. He graduated from Adeniran Ogunsanya college of Education where he studied English/Yoruba Languages and Ekiti State University where he obtained a degree in English Education.

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