Setting aside the digital scan reading of the massive amount of online information we daily encounter, it is my opinion that empathetic turbo-charged reading fiction is a change maker, an enabler of interaction and transaction creating compassionate, responsible and responsive people. There has been plenty of speculation on social media lately about whether Donald Trump ever reads; it seems that he probably doesn’t. Susan Hill, however writes in the February 2017 edition of the Spectator, that at the end of his time in office Barack Obama confided that he had used reading as a key way of managing stress over his last years in office. No further comment needed!
When we discuss reading we often cite statistics for how it improves our youngsters chances of performing well academically. I was told at a recent adolescent literacy summit I attended that reading fiction for just ten extra minutes a day gives students access to up to a million words a year and improves vocabulary and student performance exponentially. Wow!
Both in schools and at home parents and educators need to make time to have one-on-one chats with young people about reading in order to help them develop as ‘life readers’. This is challenging if reading isn't part of a families cultural values, or if curriculum demands to pass exams take away the necessary time in class for reading for pleasure. There is no doubt though that talking about reading helps develop self-selected allegiances to authors and genres which help develop passion and interest, and significantly increases reading stamina. The idea of reading stamina is an interesting one and could be used like with sports to develop the idea of building up reading 'fitness'.
Libraries and librarians are, of course, the obvious go to place to find a range of enticing and exciting titles to read. As when discussing reading or making recommendations it is always a good idea to encourage choice. It’s my view that if children are empowered to own and develop their own reading choices, and encouraged to develop stamina for volume reading it will help develop greater empathy enabling them to make ethical choices. In a changing world developing these skills is becoming increasingly important. Our young people need to own their reading and consequently own the values that being ‘life readers’ creates.
I have yet to meet a fellow educator who does not share the belief that we should strive to instill within the children we interact with the values of becoming good global citizens. In these troubling political times of exclusion and non-acceptance I am very lucky in the school that I work in that this is becoming a focal point of development.
As libraries are, or should be, central to any school, we are in an excellent position to promote our community’s beliefs and values. This has been very much the case when reflecting on global citizenship in my school. Our latest library displays boldly show our values and our library house competition has enabled students to explore these values within books that they are reading.
When reflecting on how and why libraries help develop skills of global citizenship I keep coming back to the importance of developing what my colleague, Stephen Murgatroyd and I have coined the three Es. Empowerment, Empathy and Ethics.
By helping our students develop a love of reading we are helping them learn how to connect to other people’s emotions; entering into a different world to their own is a key way of connecting with different worlds and experiences and thus develops empathy amongst our students.
Becoming good researchers and helping our children learn how to use online, book, physical and human sources to search for information and gain knowledge, without plagiarising is empowering and encourages ethical behaviour.
The two strands of encouraging a love of reading and becoming skilled researchers go hand in hand. So from choosing excellent resources and sharing books; to engaging our children in fun competitions; to interacting with visiting authors; to running poetry competitions, Readers’ Cups; to Readers Theatre competitions; to completing research projects, including good old fashioned referencing skills, libraries and librarians are all part of what we do day to day to help our children be empowered to become ethical and empathetic global citizens.
I recently caught the tail end of a TV interview where the explorer being interviewed use a librarian’s role negatively to present how little they impact on the real world in comparison to their own. I beg to differ.