October 20, 2006

Learning to Read

Last year, in Kindergarten, my daughter began the long process of learning to read. The first few months of First Grade were challenging to her as she was pushed to read more and more. Lori or I would sit each night and listen to her as she struggled through several books (2 each night for practice).

But somewhere, somehow, she suddenly began reading very well. It is like it just clicked. She is reading more smoothly, and sounding out the words less often because she recognizes them.

This will, however, become a problem later on. At some point we become so familiar with the words that we forget to actually read what is being said. We have it in our minds what the person is saying, so we simply hear without listening.

Need an example?

Example #1 Preach a sermon. Following the sermon, someone will come up to you and say, "That was a great sermon! I liked when you said...." After listening for a few moments, you wonder whether you were listen to the same sermon because this person has gotten something out of the sermon that you never said.

Example #2 Write something. I have been reading the blog of Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon. His blog is satirical and funny, but somehow that seems to be lost on the ignorant people who feel a need to point out that what he says is flawed. For instance when he said that all the knobs and buttons in a cockpit are simply to keep the male interest in technology appeased. His comment section was filled with people explaining the use and need of those buttons.

Example #3 State an opinion. There will be someone there to correct what they think you said, but you didn't really say.

Here is the thing. It is okay to disagree with someone, only if you ACTUALLY understand what they are saying and what they mean by what they are saying.

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren wrote a wonderful book called How To Read a Book. When I first heard of the book, I thought I know how to read! The problem is that most people really don't. They have the mechanics down, but its the thinking part of reading that many people decide to forego.

Adler and Van Doren point out that there are 3 "readings" that must be done. The first reading concerns understanding the structure and purpose of the book. This reading requires the reader to discover what phrases the author uses and how he/she uses those phrases. The second reading involves understanding what the author is saying. This requires the read to construct the "argument" or opinion of the author. The third reading is one of critic (not meaning negative). Once the author's opinion and propositions are understood, then, and only then, can the reader judge the value of the work.

While in seminary I had a wonderful professor who taught me a valuable lesson. Dr. Truesdale was committed to presenting the opinions and arguments of others with integrity. He had experienced teachers who presented "straw men" and then tore them down as though they had actually proven them wrong.

It demonstrates a lack of integrity when we respond or disagree with someone without fully understanding their side. This is where humility is also required. I have read many blogs and statements by people about certain aspects of another person that, while the critic thinks they have understood what is being said, was not what was actually said.

It is easy to misunderstand someone. The English language is vast, difficult, and cumbersome at times. It is also impossible to describe every aspect of something; completeness takes time and often more space than is allowed. The written word, via blog, letter, or article, lacks context and "body language" (which is 90% of our communication). Humility and integrity are truly our best options.


  1. Are you trying to say something? *G*

    No seriously, I read through something then start thinking about whatever nerve was hit during that read. Then I start analyzing and end up sometimes thinking about something that the author never intended me to think about.

    Or, Doug will preach something and I will have this ongoing dialogue with God inside and He will explain something to me and I'll get something out of the sermon Doug never intended... But God did, so it's all good.

    So if I do go off on tangents (and I do quite often), you know my reasons. :)

    That and I blame the ADD.

    Oh, and with this blog thing, I do miss that other 90%. Greatly so.

  2. monkeys. Hairless monkeys.

    No I don't know how I ended up on this post. I pushed a button.......