Life Log

The Cod Liver Oil Theory of Reading is Broken. We Need to Teach People to Read For Fun.

Several parents gather around a third grade text, and after reading it, find the questions asked about the text to be ridiculous:

By asking young students to spend time taking tests like this we are doing them a double disservice: first, by inflicting on them such mediocre literature, and second, by training them to read not for pleasure but to discover a predetermined answer to a (let’s not mince words) stupid question.
Consider for a moment what it would be like to try to answer this question of a major work of children’s literature. So: what is the story ‘Piglet Meets a Heffalump’ mostly about? Is it about hunting and trapping techniques? Facing one’s fear of scary monsters? Joining with others in a great enterprise? Trying to impress your friends by claiming knowledge you don’t possess? Or does it mostly reveal how friendship and love can transcend all our foibles?”

(Via Dear Governor: Lobby to Save a Love of Reading – SchoolBook.)

I call it the ‘cod liver oil theory’ of reading. So many people keep harping that reading is ‘good for you’ that this is often the main avenue to which kids are exposed to literature. Constantly being give texts to analyze and find ‘answers’ within. Guided to pre-determined outcomes.

Fuck. That. Shit.

No better way to kill a love reading than to beat it into some kid that literature isn’t fun, or reading a way to transport yourself elsewhere. No better way to teach kids that reading is only one thing; a boring task for infovores.

Here, eat your story vegetables you little shits. Eat them up and stop crying. It’s good for you. There can never be story steak, story potatoes, or story candy, or story dessert. Story food is only fuel, never pleasure. Don’t go listen to some chef, here’s your story cube. Find the nutrients. Find them now!

A whole class of college freshman recently read my novel Arctic Rising. While signing after a Q&A session a football player came up to have the book signed and said, embarrassed, that it was the first book he’d ever actually just enjoyed reading.

Sure, it had been assigned, but it’s a refrain I’ve heard over and over again. It does indicate a certain failure of the cod liver theory of literature he’d been living in until he turned 19.
For 14 or so years, literature for this person was only ‘you have to’ and ‘you need to find out the…’ and ‘it’s good for you.’

Shit, if that had been the way reading was taught to me, I wouldn’t have put up with that either.

And I still ran into cod liver oil bullshit. Teachers saying that it wasn’t good for me to read ahead of my level. Getting held back because I could read a whole book, but couldn’t recite my alphabet in order.

The joy of reading is being suppressed, and that leads to fewer active readers.