Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

The Purpose of Education, Free Voluntary Reading, and Dealing with the Impact of Poverty

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

The Purpose of Education, Free Voluntary Reading, and Dealing with the Impact of Poverty

Article excerpt

"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." Pablo Picasso.

As we mature, we find our unique talents and interests, develop them, and discover how to use them to help others. Among the ways school can help in this process is to encourage free voluntary reading, an extremely pleasant activity. This cannot happen, however, without access to books and other reading material. Unfortunately, children of poverty have little access to books: Often, their only source of books is the library.

We Are All Different, We Are All Special

Each of us has unique talents, interests and desires. Along with many others, I will assume in this column that in our younger years, we are supposed to find out what our talents, interests and desires are, and as we grow up we start to develop our unique talents. And as we mature, we discover how to use our talents to help others. There are thus three steps: 1) Find your talent; 2) Develop your talent; 3) Use your talent.

Things Change

"It's hard to predict, especially about the future." (Yogi Berra)

The history of science and technology has taught us that new developments are nearly always a surprise. This is, of course, a problem for education.

A popular view is that we must prepare today's students for specific "21st Century Skills." Many "experts" behave as if they know what these skills are. Most of us have no idea. In fact, it is impossible for societies to make detailed plans for the future.

There is a solution. Instead of training students for professions that may be obsolete by the time they graduate, school should help students "pursue their strengths":

... it is...difficult to predict what new businesses will emerge and what will become obsolete. Thus, what becomes highly valuable are unique talents, knowledge, and skills, the ability to adapt to changes, and creativity, all of which calls for a school culture that respects and cultivates expertise in a diversity of talents and skills and a curriculum that enables individuals to pursue their strengths (Zhao, 2009, p. 156).

Thus, the path of discovering your talent, developing it, and using it for the benefit of others is the best path for both the individual and society. School should be a place to help young people on this journey:

... if you don't discover things you're good at and things you love to do, then you never quite discover what you're capable of or really who you are. I think that, increasingly, the mission of schools has to focus on the development of our individual talents and abilities, among all of the other things that we need to learn in common. Schools should also help us discover more about ourselves and the lives that we should be leading (Robinson, 2014, p. 159).

An Example: Free Voluntary Reading

There are many ways to help young people along the path. One powerful way school can help is to encourage free voluntary reading.

Free voluntary reading means reading because you want to and what you want to, without book reports or any kind of accountability. It is a very pleasant means of finding our talents, developing some of the competences that help us get better at our chosen path, and developing ideas on how to use our talents.

The Pleasure of Reading

Abundant research showe that self-selected reading is pleasant: In fact, it is much more than pleasant.

Reading for pleasure produces "flow," the state we reach when we are deeply but effortlessly involved in an activity (Csikzentmihalyi, 1991). In flow, the concerns of everyday life and even awareness of the self diminish and even temporarily disappear - our sense of time is altereded; nothing but the activity seems to matter.

Reading "is currently perhaps the most often mentioned flow activity in the word (Csikzentmihalyi, 1991, p. 117). Pleasure readers' reports confirm that they are often in a state of flow: A resident of Northern Italy noted that when he reads, "I immediately immerse myself in the reading, and the problems I usually worry about disappear" (Massimini, Csikzentmihalyi, & Della Faye, 1992, p. …

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