My information is derived principally from the written statements of the school committees of the respective towns — gentlemen who are certainly exempt from all temptation to disparage the schools they superintend.
The result is that more than 11/12ths of all the children in the reading classes do not understand the meanings of the words they read; and that the ideas and feelings intended by the author to be conveyed to and excited in, the reader’s mind, still rest in the author’s intention, never having yet reached the place of their destination." (Second Report to the Massachusetts Board of Education, 1838) In general, then, we read to figure out what authors mean.
Of course, reading has a nearly universal purpose: to figure out what an author has to say on a given subject. The author has previously translated ideas and experiences into words.
We must take those same words and re-translate them into the author’s original meaning using our own ideas and experiences as aids.
The primary ideas, at the core, explain the secondary and peripheral ideas.
Whenever we read to acquire knowledge, we should take ownership, first, of the primary ideas, for they are a key to understanding all of the other ideas.Instead, read to determine ways of thinking about the subject matter. Examine the evidence (the supporting facts, examples, etc.) the text employs. A critical thinker/reader might read the same work to appreciate how a particular perspective on the events and a particular selection of facts can lead to a particular understanding. Supporting evidence is indispensable to an argument, so consider the kinds of evidence used: Statistical? Accurately translating words into intended meanings is an analytic, evaluative, and creative set of acts.Unfortunately, few people are skilled at translation.We may simply enjoy the ideas that the text stimulates in us.This is fine as long as we know that we do not deeply understand the text.To read well requires one to develop one’s thinking about reading and, as a result, to learn how to engage in the process of what we call close reading.Students not only need to learn how to determine whether a text is worth reading, but also how to take ownership of a text’s important ideas (when it contains them).Our reading is further influenced by our purpose for reading and by the nature of the text itself.For example, if we are reading for pure pleasure and personal amusement, it may not matter if we do not fully understand the text.