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In the spirit with John Bressler - Don't just read - learn something, too
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John Bressler

John Bressler-041411

John Bressler reads his In the Spirit column. Click and listen.

      I happened to be listening to NPR the other day and a reporter quoted a teacher who said, "Up to the third grade, we teach children to learn to read. After that, we teach children to read to learn." I like that because it means that just because a child can read most anything phonetically and with pretty good comprehension, he or she can't ignore books from that day on. Barbara Freedman-De Vito writes: books help develop vital language skills, books open up new worlds, books enhance social sYls, books can improve hand-eye coordination, books really matter, books can provide endless hours of fun and entertainment.

       I hear too many who look me in the eye and with all sincerity say, "I want to be a nurse, lawyer, physical therapist..., but I don't like to read. I can't remember the last time I read anything. Just tell me what you want me to know, give me the answer you expect to hear from me, teach me the test and leave off the trick questions." Reading expert Jim Trelease said that people who don't read base their future decisions on what they used to know. "If you don't read much, you don't know much. You are dangerous." When I worked with Maas Bros. of Florida, I was given a copy of the Wall Street Journal every morning and was required to spend one hour during the day reading the paper. Why? The company wanted to be certain that I knew our customer base, their styles, habits, the economy, and could hold an intelligent conversation.

      Of course no one has to read. If I search, I could find a movie at Blockbuster loosely based on some of the best selling and even classic books. I can listen to some television anchor tell me his or her version of the latest news, I can turn to blogs and can read hundreds if not thousands of emotional opinions on anything from the flat earth society to the newest conspiracy theory, or I can just believe whatever I choose without doing any research of my own.

      I spend one section each semester entitled, "How to Read a Textbook." College textbooks don't seem to be difficult, they are. Most classes require fifteen weeks of in-depth reading, comprehension, and composition to cover a subject. If the student doesn't want to read, or can't read at this level, failure is almost guaranteed.

      I believe I truly understand. When I finally discovered I wasn't stupid, as I was told by a teacher, I also realized I had a lot of catching up to do. When I went to college after my tour with the U. S. Navy, I found I had to sit in the library with my textbook in front of me, a Thesaurus on my left, and a dictionary to my right. I would read a chapter, rewrite it so I could read it comfortably, and then read the chapter in its original form for comprehension. I tell my students, "If you want it, you can get it, but don't expect the process to be easy." Hey! I still weep when I read a book on Economics, but I can read it. I'm not too sure that our legislators read books like that, but they should.

      As a Christian, there is one book that I must read for myself, and I must read it apart from all the commentaries and most certainly apart from every theologian, no matter how revered they may be. After I have read it for myself and have struggled to understand the complexities and contradictions, then I can read what the great intellects have written. It's not that I am so smart I don't have to listen to the "Masters," it is that I want to read the Bible without any outside prejudice or pressure. I want the Bible to confront me, confound me, confuse me, challenge me, and to ultimately convince me. I put my RSV in the middle, a KJV on the left, and  to my right. What a journey it has been!

      When I was a very young boy, I became hooked on writers like Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, and Jack London to name a few and still remember a favorite, H. G. Wells and his book "The Time Machine." An inventor creates a device that accidentally allows him to travel 800,000 years into a future that seems idyllic on the surface but is in actuality a terrifying reality. After an almost impossible struggle to survive in this alien world, the hero returns to his century, removes three books from his library, and returns to the future to begin the rebuilding process. The books ends when his friends discover what he has done, where he has gone, and that three books are missing from the shelf which the inventor has obviously taken with him.

      We readers are left with their question, "Which three books would you have taken?"

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