New technologies abound, but reading is still fundamental

May 05 2023

New technologies abound, but reading is still fundamental

There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away
-Emily Dickinson

Keystone students read. This may sound like it’s stating the obvious, but at a time when there are so many distractions, it’s heartwarming to observe students become excited about the act of reading. A couple of weeks ago, thanks to librarian Ms. Vilagi, students ran to the library to purchase a book, or several, during the Spring Book Fair. Fortunately, there were Lower School family picnics during the week, so students had the opportunity to lunch with their parents and then augment their home libraries. It was heartening to see their enthusiasm as students proudly shared their latest finds.

Similarly, the conversations with older students on what they’re reading for school or for pleasure can inspire us. Whether a junior explains how much he’s enjoying the latest novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a senior discusses working her way through James Joyce’s “The Dubliners,” or another 11th grader has just started Hana Yanigahara’s newest book, their joy in discovering an author new to them or working their way through a classic can feel uplifting.

And while I sometimes need to remind students at morning drop-off to look where they are going as they read while walking, I do appreciate how a good book can consume you and make you forget that there’s a real world all around you.

Some people might question why reading books remains so important when there is an abundance of information available online. I recall the ads for the Reading is Fundamental (RIF) organization from my childhood. The name said it all. While it may appear abundantly clear, the necessity for reading and the benefits that accrue unfortunately require reminders.

As study after study has demonstrated, reading helps children grow in a multitude of ways. Perhaps most apparently, reading helps children build their vocabulary and become more fluent writers. As Stephen King says in his excellent primer called “On Writing,” “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Reading also enables children to improve their memory by becoming immersed in stories that force them to recall characters and plotlines. Children and young adults learn to concentrate and focus for similar reasons. Students hone their critical and analytical skills as they determine whether they like certain characters or believe twists in a story. Overall, reading bolsters students academically as the skills they develop to become strong readers translate into other realms.

As Keystone’s Director of Counseling Dr. Erica Shapiro reminded us in a recent PTO General Session, reading helps students grow socially and emotionally. Fiction in particular builds children’s sense of empathy as they learn to relate to the protagonist in a story. (As a historian, though, I think good historical writing can do this.) Children can relate what they are experiencing to Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, or Hermione Granger, and consider how they would act if they were in their shoes. Perhaps this is what Atticus Finch means in “To Kill A Mockingbird” when he says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

I remember when our older son and I were enjoying the Harry Potter books. He sat in one of our living room chairs, and I was on the couch while each of us read our own copy. I was a few pages ahead of him at a particularly poignant moment. I observed him reach that section, frantically turn back and re-read to ensure what he thought had happened did actually occur, and then a single tear fell down his cheek. On the one hand, I felt sad for him; on the other hand, I was happy for him to discover the emotional power of a well-told story.

Over the past few weeks at Keystone, there have been reminders about the power of good books. 8th graders in Ms. Tyroff’s are currently undergoing the million-word challenge where they track how much they are reading. Their names go up on a wall once they surpass the word count. It’s beautiful to observe the students’ pride as their names are displayed for all to see.

Students reading classics recently resulted in animals coming to campus. To celebrate the 2nd graders finishing “Charlotte’s Web” and the sophomores reading “Animal Farm,” maintenance team member Jason Goodwin brought some of his own piglets to campus. Students in all grades said it was one of the best days ever as they were able to pet and play with real-life Wilburs. Thank you to Mr. Goodwin for sharing his cute friends with us.

As we near the end of the school year in just a few weeks, let’s be sure our students continue reading over the summer. There are few things more enjoyable, and more beneficial, on a blistering South Texas summer day than curling up with an absorbing novel or a compelling piece of nonfiction.

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