Why We Don’t Read

Berlin Memorial for Books Burned, Photo by Robert Scoble

In a culture with few serious readers, professors belong to a privileged reading class. We are literate to nth degree. Our literacy gives us power. We can decipher, interpret, and understand. When we read the scholarship on teaching and learning, we put our high levels of literacy to use for immediate and practical good. Unfortunately, too often we do not do this as much as we might want or as much as we should, for a variety of legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons. Why not?

I blame not teachers but “the broader institutional, ideological, and material contexts that make not reading the scholarship (on teaching and learning) the norm” (Manifesto). Two aspects of these contexts include (a) “misaligned structures for tenure, promotion, and prestige in many colleges and universities” and (b) “an inadequate understanding of authentic learning in the broader culture.” Both obscure the full complexity of learning and divert our time and energy to other worthwhile (and sometimes not so worthwhile) tasks.

What else stands in the way? Obstacles abound. Some of us:

  • have not thought much about it,
  • have “more important” things to do, like research or grading,
  • do not have enough time,
  • do not know the scholarship exists,
  • do not know where to start, seeing how vast the scholarship is,
  • assume that the scholarship doesn’t have much to offer,
  • do not work at places where we are expected by others to read, and/or
  • do not work at places where we are supported in reading, personally or materially.

Some of these are legitimate obstacles. Others, not so much. Looked at together, they certainly shed light why many of us do not read about teaching and learning as much as we should or as much as we want to. In my book, to overcome these obstacles borders heroic. I am grateful for those who do.

Photo of Berlin Memorial for Books Burned by Robert Scoble

3 responses to “Why We Don’t Read

  1. Some really good thoughts, Paul, and I totally agree with you. As a counter-measure in my own institution for those who report to me as department chairs, I have added to their annual review to pick one book on pedagogy of their choosing to read in this academic year. And then my goal is to build on that. Too many are fat on content and lean on pedagogical skills and it is hurting us in the classroom. Content is critical, but so is a tool belt full of useful ways of engaging the learner with that content.

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