Reading Can Make You a Better Person

Those on this blog might take this as a given. But is it? This idea was sparked by an article I came across from The Guardian newspaper (one of the best papers in the world by the way). It’s about a program that’s been implemented whereby individuals are required to take part in reading courses (yes, reading courses) as part of their sentencing for a crime. It makes an impression about how important reading really is . . .

The program sounds pretty amazing actually. Some of the guys have never had the chance to take part in reading groups a lot of us generally take for granted I’m guessing. This excerpt from the article is just amazing:

“Stories Connect didn’t just change my life, it saved it.” He explains: “We looked at a section of Oliver Twist, the relationship between Bill Sikes and Nancy. One of us pretended we were Bill while everyone else asked questions. The idea was you responded as much as you could from that character’s point of view. It makes you think about what others think and feel, and really helps you to reflect on yourself.”

I hope education policy makers are paying attention to programs like these. Instead of continuing to assault humanities programs like English and history, we should be thinking about the social good those programs can do. Everything isn’t reducible to numbers; science and math are not the only programs we should be pouring money into (do you suppose Obama’s listening?).

Personally, I gained immeasurably from reading and novels in particular. A lot of it had to do with my mom making me read and then making me want to read. Then, the social aspect of discussion really drives themes home: I had gotten really into reading, a lot of sci-fi and fantasy stuff. I was about half way through Tolkien’s The Two Towers when me and her started discussing our favorite parts. I don’t remember what mine was, because it wasn’t that after we talked. She highlighted the discussion between Gandalf and Frodo in the first novel. After discovering he has the ring he exclaims, “I wish it need not have happened in my time”. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” It’s not quite the same context as in novel, but this is generally it:

As a teenager, I had been all caught up in the action, the adventure of it all, but this was what it was really all about. I had missed it on my own. It made the books immediately more important and meaningful, and I never looked back.

Not that this article or my arguments are an end-all be-all explanation for “why the humanities matter,” but it certainly is a significant piece to the puzzle.  Now, how we get more kids to read, especially in today’s hyper-technologized climate, is another matter for another day. But, I’m guessing some of you might have other stories about how reading changed you . . .

2 thoughts on “Reading Can Make You a Better Person

  1. I like the notion of reading as a way to overcome transgressions, but I’m not sure how much I like it being aligned with the notion of punishment in a penalty system…

  2. Ah, I see your point. That is true. But, I think a lot of these guys (mostly men) haven’t read before at all or had the chance to (for whatever reasons). It seems like this is more in line with the tradition of rehabilitation rather than punishment (the old debate). Many of the “criminals” seem to see it in a positive light as well.

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