We were out on the back porch, talking about Madame Bovary, about how Flaubert took forever to write a book because he agonized over every single word. Josh picked up the book and started reading. I went inside for a few minutes to see if the hamburger meat was thawed. When I came back, Josh started talking about the word "quadruped." He'd read a total of one sentence in that book, and then spent the rest of the time noodling over why Flaubert said "quadruped" and not "beast" or "animal" or "varmint." Seriously, how can he ever finish a book if he reads that way?
I don't read that way. I don't pause on "quadruped," because I know what a quadruped is. I read it, process it, and in my mind, I picture it about the same as I would have if the word had been beast. I process the basic information. It would never occur to me to think that the author had hidden additional information in the individual words. That's gotta be cheating or something.
Josh said he learned how to read this way in high school. And then again in college, too. They would go over passages line by line and talk about individual word choices. If he had only learned it in his higher education, that would've made sense. He went to college to study literature, and they gotta do something to take up four years, so I guess they read like one book, a word at a time. I went to college to study computer languages, and there are no synonyms in computer language.
But he learned this stuff in high school! I feel pretty good about my rural North Carolina public education. Great math, science, and english teachers. We won't talk about history. Not a lot of elective choices, but we had a thriving vocational department. But I don't remember anyone teaching me how to read, or how to parse a book for subtext. When we read books, we talked about themes and symbols and relevance of literature to real life.
I wonder if that last one is really the hardest. How do you get the kids to care about books? Probably not by making them read a sentence at a time.
Josh admits that maybe he was one of the few to get this education from his high school. He was a very responsive student of literature. Maybe the teachers would've loved to teach how to really dig deep in some prose, but there was a test at the end of the year, and no one seemed all that interested. I didn't have a Josh in my class, so no one was raising their hand, asking about the possible differences between quadrupeds and varmints.
So I stopped grumbling about how no one taught me to read. Maybe they tried to teach it, but I didn't learn it. Sometimes that is ineffective teaching, but I can't say that I was always a completely engaged student. In many cases, I learned what I needed for as long as I needed to have the information, but after the test, it slipped out of my mind. The student has to be invested in the process, too.
And that continues on! Because if you stopped learning when there stopped being a teacher, you've done it wrong. You have to be your own teacher. I did not learn how to recognize character development, but I am learning now. I didn't learn how to parse each individual word of a sentence to find the subtext, but now that I know that writers are hiding things in there, I can. Maybe I should start with a short book for that.