when does intellectual curiosity stop?

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.

If you’re like me, you read that with a chill running down your spine. You read blogs, so you’re reading a lot.  You like reading.  You think other people ought to like to read.

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 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 read to my son a lot, and have done so since he was born. I’ve tried to with my daughter, with less success since every time I start to read to her my son 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.

Bubelah and I talked about intellectual curiousity this weekend, in relation to things I’ve said about a college education. 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.  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 – intellectual curiousity, if someone has it, won’t stop with college.  We didn’t decide the argument, but we did agree that there is no excuse to quit learning, ever.

I know my coworkers are weirded out that I sit and read a book in the office pantry while I eat lunch. They are doubly weirded out that I read history, or graphic novels, or fantasy/sci-fi.  The idea of reading anything other than a newspaper or magazine seems trivial or immature to them.   Even though I am not enamored of either of the major parties in the US, every time I hear someone (and it’s usually a Democrat) mocked for being “an intellectual” or “an elitist” I cringe.  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.

Reading is the gateway to knowledge. Of course you can 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.  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.