Magazine article Montessori Life

The Joys of Reading: An Occupation of Mind

Magazine article Montessori Life

The Joys of Reading: An Occupation of Mind

Article excerpt

This summer, I spent 3 weeks in Northern Ghana, in circumstances that are best described as basic by American standards. Our guesthouse had a television set-but only two channels, and reception was so poor that on the few occasions it was turned on, neither audio nor video were satisfactory for viewing. And though we had Internet access, it was too expensive and unreliable for more than a quick e-mail check. Thus, our evenings were devoted to conversation, work, and an occasional game of Scrabble. In late evening, with the aid of a battery-powered light, I read (and read and read) to the point where I became concerned that I would run out of books. In the absence of ubiquitous Western distractions, I rediscovered the liberating joy of guilt-free concentrated reading and the pleasure of writing thoughtfully about each day.

In my journal, I noted the differences in gatherings with and without a television set. (One no longer needs to say whether or not the television is on because, in Ghana as in the U. S., if a TV is in the house, it is almost always on.) In compounds with no electricity, even though I could not speak the language, conversation continued through eye contact and smiles. At other times, as in our guesthouse one of the few times the television worked, what had been a lively after-lunch conversation came quickly to a halt as everyone attended to the flickering screen. On another visit to a compound with electricity and television, I was continually offered a better seat so I could see the screen; conversation was limited mostly to what was happening in the quiz show all were watching.

In this new and foreign milieu, it became easy to question the value of modern technology, as I seemed to be doing fine without much of it. My thinking and reading reflected a level of concentration I had not experienced in a long time. In other words, I was no longer multitasking, no longer correcting papers as I watched a baseball game, intermittently running to put a load of wet clothes in the dryer, and watering a few plants on my way back to my work and the game.

My coeditor (and in the interest of full disclosure, my daughter) spent time working on an organic farm this summer, where she had no television or Internet. In one of our limited conversations (she had no phone of her own either), she ticked off the books she had read and talked about what she was currently reading, saying, 'Tt's like being a kid again!" I wonder how many children today will be able to say that 10 years from now. …

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