The Reader’s DNA

1. Why are You Reading?

In the last two or three years, and I can’t say precisely why this is the case, I’ve become more and more of a “softie.” One of the creeds I’ve come to live by is that there is no legitimate reason to bully another. I do on occasion fall short and find myself taking on the role of the aggressor, but I’ve been conscious to check myself against the ideal that this is simply wrong.

Much of the bullying I witness, and I can’t decide if I witness more as an adult than as a child, all seems to boil down to absurd and petty reasoning. I was a bit of a chunky kid, so I was certainly reminded of that frequently. That went away by the time I reached high school, however, by which time I endured the absurd form of ridicule that until this day still causes me despair with regard to the future of the human race. I was asked constantly, “Why are you reading?” Sometimes it was modified as “Why do you read so much?”

On more than one occasion, no word of a lie, I heard not a question, but the statement, “Stop reading!” It wasn’t a threat  to put down the book or face the consequences, but more of an expression of annoyance on the part of my peers. It seemed, at least from my point of view, that the sight of someone with a book constantly in front of them was strange to the point of being revolting. I don’t know with certainty the reasoning behind this and I don’t want to speak for others, but this is my take.

I do want to address, however, one of the reasons I cared so much for reading and continue to do so. It was not the usual practical or utilitarian reasons to read, such as entertainment value, travel without having to leave one’s room, or for greater knowledge, though these reasons can never be denied. Reading was and is something that I do not just because it serves practical purposes, but because I feel compelled to.

I can certainly say why reading is important with regard to educational and cognitive development and that it is to be valued for such reasons, but I could never quite find the language or logic behind why literature, and any reading material in general, felt so indispensable and at times like a religious experience. It was not just a hobby or something that I did in my spare time, but an activity which was often more capable of bringing about happiness or ecstasy than any other. In this sense, I often have the hunch that I was born a reader rather than made into one over time. It was, to employ an overused phrase, in my DNA. I just couldn’t say why.



My Year as a Tutor: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Today marked my final session with the two students I have been tutoring since the beginning of the school year last September as a part-time gig while in classes. Rather than spending the day forcing them to work or practise their reading comprehension as I often do, I simply let the session pass giving my two students the choice to do whatever they felt like doing. Immediately, they chose to spend the session on the computers at the school’s library where our tutoring sessions take place. I had been depriving them of this privilege nearly the entire year feeling that it was a distraction from what they really should have been focussing on, namely their reading. This is primarily because my two students were enrolled in this program specifically due to the fact that they were far behind the literacy standards for their grade level and severely needed to play catchup lest the problem exacerbate itself in the coming years.

It’s a written law, however, that on the last day of anything school related, no one is to do what they’re actually there to do. The last day of school is usually reserved for “class parties” featuring a wide assortment of sugary snacks and soft drinks donated by the students (the parents, really). The class might watch a movie or play games, but no matter what there was to be no talk of actual school work (if you could call what we did in elementary school work). I only had two students under my charge and lacked the resources for doing anything extravagant. I knew, however, that a session on the computers would be more than sufficient to make them happy, so for the last day of tutoring, I didn’t resist their demands.

In some sense, this was the most meaningful session I’ve had with my students all year. As they used an art program that was around even when I was a kid, I got to engage in the most informal conversation I’ve had with them all year, and it’s these informal conversations which are always the most meaningful. They asked me about life as a university student and seemed easily amazed at the amount of work that was required of me. As they composed their artwork on the computer, I snuck in a few art history lessons just for the hell of it using my feeble knowledge of the subject. I gained more insights than I had all year about their likes and dislikes, their fears and the sense of humour they shared.

When our session came to an end, I left them with their simple parting gifts and was sure for the first time that I had made some breakthroughs with them during our time together. I  felt for the first time with some certainty that they looked up to me and were appreciative of what I did as a tutor. They repeated their pledge to spend the summer reading and why it was important to do so  told me that I was the “best tutor ever.” I’m pretty sure, however, that I am the only tutor they have ever had and this might have been an after-effect of the gifts I gave them, but it was a nice sentiment nonetheless and it’s always nice to know that you are appreciated for something. This entire venture has been, simply stated, a learning experience. As contrived as it may sound, I learned far more from my students that they probably learned from me. I may have taught them the basic mathematical operations and bolstered their literacy in whatever manner I could, but I emerged with a myriad of life lessons which will forever impact my worldview.

Here’s how I basically break down the whole experience.

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