I come bearing good news! On the 24th of May I shall begin my summer vacations, which means much more time to update, finally! I plan to do a lot of thing this summer, so I’ll have plenty to write about as well, starting with a couple of tags I’ve been postponing.
But for now, here is a brief reflection on the educational value of books, to end the schoolyear with a bang!
“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” These were the words of author Anna Quindlen when she accepted her Pulitzer Prize in 1992. They hold great truth, for books are nothing if not beneficial for the reader. They are a form of low-budget entertainment that will not only stimulate the mind and reduce stress, but also broaden the reader’s knowledge, vocabulary and even their memory. Avid readers will also improve their focus, concentration and analytical thinking skills, which will in turn lead to better writing skills. All of these advantages are key in the importance that educators have, for a long time now, placed on reading. It is no longer a surprise for many of us that children are encouraged to pick up books from a very young age. This is because of the advantages a child can receive by being exposed to such activities. Investigators from the University of Michigan determined that a child’s reading skills are important for their success in school and work because reading will allow them to develop better communication, concentration and logical thinking skills. Aside from all this, reading can be a fun and imaginative activity for children, which opens doors to all kinds of new worlds for them. And no book introduces children of all ages to a new world better than L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story has become an established part of multiple cultures, as it has been translated or adapted into well over fifty languages, at times being modified in local variations. For instance, in some abridged Indian editions, the Tin Woodman was replaced with a snake. It contains a timeless message from a less complicated era that continues to resonate to this day: that love, kindness and unselfishness makes the world a better place, which is an idea that many would like their children to consider, and has lead Baum’s books to be included in syllabuses all over the world.
However, books can also be used when trying to understand more complex concepts. There are specialized books on almost every topic imaginable and, inside each of these, for many different levels of knowledge. However, narratives and novels can also provide an aid for the explanation of many concepts. The authors will use the characters to draw the reader away from the world of current events into a fantasy space where he or she can grasp ideas and principles more crisply. This is what George Orwell did when writing Animal Farm. His book is an allegory or fable, a fairy tale for adults, but at the same time it is a powerful satire of something that was very real when Orwell wrote about it. He used irony to undermine the tenets of totalitarianism, specifically that of Stalinism, but the general outline of the story can also be applied to more modern totalitarianisms. It is because of this that this book is used to explain such political concepts. Those who read it, will gain a finer understanding of what occurred in the world during that period, and of the ideas behind the actions of those men who are represented by personified pigs, dogs and so on.
Finally, reading is also extremely helpful when learning a new language. Reading comprehension is one of the basic areas that those who are learning a language must master. In a similar way to books in one’s own language, reading books in a foreign language will result in the reader obtaining new vocabulary and communication skills, as well as tools for writing in that same language. It is important, however, to keep in mind that the level of the reading material must be commensurate with the vocabulary and grammar levels of the reader, so that there is no risk of an excessive cognitive load. For example, a relatively high level of English is needed to be able to read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but a great deal of vocabulary will be obtained from it as well, even though the English used in the story is not exactly the same as English nowadays. While Poirot studies the death of American businessman Ratchett, the reader will for example learn many action verbs. Similarly, when the colorful suspects are described — a Russian princess, an English colonel, an American matron and a Swedish missionary among others — the reader can soak in all manner of descriptive elements.
Seldom does anyone disagree with the fact that books have an undeniable educational value. Reading will open children’s minds and prepare them so that they can absorb and process complex ideas in the future. Books can make this process easier as well, as proven through the example of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Those who read gain a finer understanding both of environment and of their language. Books are also an extremely useful tool when it comes to learning other languages. In the same way that they help with vocabulary in the readers’ mother tongue, they also constitute a valuable source of vocabulary in other languages. Furthermore, aside from educational value, books bring many other positive elements to our lives for, as George R. R. Martin wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies […]. The man who never reads lives only one.”