Reading is Like a 3-Ring Circus


I started reading at a young age, and cannot remember a time when I was without books.  And it was in 6th Grade that my reading became a passion when I chanced across Jack London’s books in the school library.  Each week held the opportunity for a new story about survival in the wilderness!

I assumed that reading was a natural skill given to human beings, like our ability to learn a language.  But that is not true.  We must be taught, and the brain is designed to learn this unnatural thing.  In the book, Reader, Come Home, Ms Wolf compares it to a 3-ring circus with the main acts consisting of cognition, language and vision.

Reading 3 Ring Circus

This is a perfect metaphor to explain all the functions that are needed for reading.  Thus, the act of reading is a miracle. Every new reader’s brain possesses the extraordinary capacity to rearrange itself beyond its original abilities in order to understand written symbols.  We taught our brain to read only a few thousand years ago, and in the process changed the intellectual evolution of our species.

As we come to appreciate how the evolution and development of reading have changed the very arrangement of our brain and our intellectual life, we begin to realize with ever greater comprehension that we truly are what we read.  Or not read . . .

There are no shortcuts for becoming a good reader, but there are lives that propel and sustain it.  Aristotle wrote that the good society has three lives: #1) the life of knowledge and productivity; #2) the life of entertainment and the Greeks’ special relationship to leisure; and finally, #3) the life of contemplation.

I am concerned that the third life – the life of contemplation – is daily threatened in the evolving culture of the Information Age.  We live in a culture that rewards immediacy, ease and efficiency.  For these things, we are drawn to our devices and all the hyper activities that come with it.  And leave the quiet  life of the book behind.

So, this reflection is not only concerned about the lack of reading due to digital devices, it also recognizes the impact of adding ‘makerspaces’ to/or replacing libraries. As noted by A.J. Juliani in his article, “Why We Need Libraries in a World Filled with Noise“, we must not forget that we need to offer a place of refuge for students to discover books.  I know it made a difference to me, and it will to our future students.


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