how to build a love of learning

Why don’t Americans like to read?  And they don’t.  You’re reading blogs, so you obviously enjoy reading, but many people don’t.  You think other people ought to like to read.  But books don’t hold much sway anymore.
From bookstatistics.com:

  • 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book.
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

One of my fondest childhood memories is reading “The Hobbit” along with my dad. We had a big illustrated edition – a lot of the cheesy Rankin-Bass stills, where Gollum looks like a frog – and he read it to me in installments. I don’t remember how many times we read it or how old I was, but I do know that I read “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (on my own) before 3rd grade, so it was probably when I was 5 or 6. But my point is simple: I remember being almost insanely excited with the idea that another chapter was going to unfold. A picture would be painted in my mind – by me – and the next day another picture would be drawn. I would go to sleep in the bunk bed I shared with my brother, my mind filled with trolls and dragons and dwarves.

I try to read to my children frequently, and have done so since they were born. My son likes books better than my daughter.  Every time I start to read to Pumpkin, Little Buddy runs over and insists on sharing (which means reading to HIM). But I think both kids have an early love of reading. I don’t read to them for any other reason than a long-term attempt to inspire a love of books in them. Books have been some of my truest and dearest friends throughout my life, and I think children need to learn early in their lives that a life can revolve around books without TV, video games or the internet.

Books, for me, are a stand-in for intellectual curiosity. That curiosity is different from getting an education; far different.  I argue that for most people, college is a crutch. Their intellectual curiosity is sated by four years in college – they read, they take interesting courses, they graduate and 58% of them never read a book again. Many people don’t even consider college as a place for true learning, but instead a diploma mill used to obtain fruitful employment.  My wife, Bubelah, thinks college is necessary for growth, and that college forces people to expand in ways they never would on their own. I say that college can only assist growth.  If you take advantage of the opportunities in college – or the continuing education available after college such as books, adult courses, or even through TV – then you have intellectual curiosity.  Intellectual curiosity, if someone has it, won’t stop with college. There is no excuse to quit learning, ever.

I’ve gotten glances from my coworkers from time to time when I sit and read a book in the office cafeteria while I eat lunch. I look around and see I am the ONLY person reading (without exaggeration) in the entire cafeteria.  I read history, or graphic novels, or fantasy/sci-fi.  It’s hard for me to imagine how exotic that appears to most people. The idea of reading anything other than a newspaper or magazine seems trivial or immature to them. Worse yet, I might be considered an elitist, or a bookworm.  When did intellectual prowess or a curiosity about life become a characteristic to be mocked? I care about history, space exploration, politics, ethics, literature. I’m a pointy-headed intellectual – and I drink beer and love pro football, too.

So how do you create a love of learning? Read.  After our formal education is done, we may gain knowledge through experience, or discussion, or other avenues – but reading is so freely available and simple that it can only be deemed a great failure of any society that doesn’t encourage it as a core virtue. You should do it whenever you can.  It doesn’t even matter WHAT you read: just read.  I’d like to see America become a place that’s proud of intellectual curiosity, but too often intellectual curiosity is mocked and belittled by people whose idea of culture is determined by TV executives. Knowledge should be a lifelong goal, not something satisfied by four years in college.

(I originally posted this, in slightly different form, in 2008)

13 comments

  • Quite frankly, those statistics really shock me! wow.

    Anyhow, I love to read. I wish I did more book reading, as a good percentage of my reading is blogs. You are right though, my desire to read more is fueled by my love of learning and curiosity to know more. Also, college was a great 4 year experience for me, that helped me secure my present employment. However, I do find that my learning capacity was maxed out while I was there and I wondered if I would continue to enjoy it when I left. However, now I do enjoy finding new things to learn all the time. – I am happy to learn this is something I do naturally, and does not need to be forced.

  • It's strange, but I read those statistics and believe them. When I graduated from college and entered the consulting world, I definitely stopped reading books. Between the travel and the horrendous hours, I simply didn't have time. It was only when I became unemployed that the joy of reading came back to me.

    And I definitely read books while I eat, regardless of how strange it lookds. It's much better than watching tv while you eat.

  • My wife and I have a special relationship with books. We buy them, read them, and then keep them in our book shelves. Our kids have an equal appreciation for books. My biggest problem is that I don't read enough fiction books which is why I make myself read at least 4 literature books/year. I thoroughly enjoy those.

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  • I always like fixing things and learning about how stuff works. I have to say that youtube is an excellent tool for that. I have used youtube to learn about fixing my car, television, plumbing, etc.

    Sure this is a different kind of learning, but learning non the less.

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  • I think parents play a big role in this one. I had a very hard time learning how to read when I was younger and thus didn't like books. My mom would always leave Bearenstein Bear books for babysitters when she went out as a treat (and slight bride) for going to bed, so that started my love for books. When I got into elementary school she read me The Chronicles of Narnia and most of the American Girl books to me. Her love for books slowly became my love for books. If I didn't have a mom like that I doubt I would ever read as much as I do now.

  • These statistics are surprising. Most of my close friends read on a regular basis (though I'm sure I could find many outside of my circle who do not.) I read historical books, autobiographies and 'chick lit' which seems pretty standard to me, and the nook that I purchased recently only makes it easier.

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  • Both my wife and I are avid readers. We read to our kids constantly when they were little, and they enjoyed it. However, this environment never translated into a love of reading for pleasure in either of them. Sometimes, you can do all the right things, but never see the desired results.

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  • What I’ve heard over and over is that the way to instill a love of reading in your kids is to read TO your kids. No guarantee that they won’t get their brains sucked out by video games later on, but definitely keep reading to them.
    Kids are naturally curious, so what you’re reading may lead to questions that you can look up together, experiments you can do together, etc. Or the child may decide to learn all he can about whatever he’s interested in, whether it’s vampire legends or baseball stats.
    I carry a book in my bag wherever I go.

  • I like to read but I met plenty people who don’t. They are too much concerned about jobs, making money and other life problems, so they don’t read as much.