Reading for Pleasure

Note: I began this post  back in May, but just looked at it again in the context of the paper I'm writing on teaching Intro to Lit. I've added the second paragraph, which is mostly John Dewey, to the first, written earlier. Timothy Burke taught a course called The History of Reading last semester & has drawn insights out of that experience that are relevant to all of us who teach in the humanities. At the heart of Burke's essay are two questions, one developmental, one causal: 1) When do students who would otherwise take pleasure in reading begin to find reading a chore? 2) Why does that happen? (And is "education," broadly defined, responsible for the loss?) Interestingly, my colleagues in Clarkson's Department of Humanities & Social Sciences have been holding a series of meetings & workshops over the last few days dealing with our new first-year course, the Clarkson Seminar. I haven't been able to attend all the meetings because I am still wrestling my Understanding Vietnam into an on-line version using Blackboard for the coming summer term, which starts in ten days, but these are questions we need to ask & keep asking. Dewey's notion of thought as being "awake" & "alert" is relevant here. Burke talks about teaching as an art, as does John Dewey. In How We Think, Dewey addresses teachers directly & asks them to bcome artists:
That art originated in play is a common saying. Whether or not the saying is historically correct, it suggests that harmony of mental playfulness and seriousness describes the artistic ideal. When the artist is preoccupied overmuch means and materials, he may achieve wonderful technique, but not the artistic spirit par excellence.  When the animating idea is in excess of the command of method, aesthetic feeling may be indicated, but the art of presentation is too defective to express the feeling thoroughly. . . . That teaching is an art and the true teacher an artist is a familiar saying. Now the teacher's own claim to rank as an artist is measured by his ability to foster the attitude of the artist in those who study with him . . .  (John Dewey, How We Think, 219-220).

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

1 thought on “Reading for Pleasure”


    People resurrected on my day
    want peace
    but won’t let it dominate them

    believers in matter
    engineers and technicians
    without an artful bone
    to be thinking it through

    let me whisper this
    to numberless you
    are you beginning to grasp

    the basic theory
    nothing you don’t love
    will show itself to you?

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