In defense of reading, and of not reading

Is it possible to swill a dozen Diet Cokes and read on the same day? It is. But it’s also possible to down the Diet Cokes and watch TV four to eight hours a day.

Like millions of Americans, Donald Trump apparently does not like to read. He can do it, although we don’t know much about his comprehension, or lack thereof.

Television can be a substitute for reading. In many ways, it is easier on the eyes, and the multi-media mode provides information and insight that supplements, and in some cases, surpasses what we can learn from reading. But even with hundreds of channels, our choices are far slimmer than what we can get from reading. Reading allows us to go at our own pace, to easily skip what does not seem to be of interest or relevant to us, and to easily take a second look at what might be of special interest or challenging.

It is apparent that Donald Trump is limited in the information that he receives because reading is such a strain or so unpleasant for him. Many presidents have been voracious readers, for example, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Wilson, Kennedy, Clinton, and Obama. They also seem to be presidents who were pretty good at their jobs.

There are standard reasons as to why many people are not avid readers. Scholastic Magazine has an interesting list of “Ten reasons non-readers don’t read.” Among the top ones are:

  1. Reading Gives Them a Headache or Makes Their Eyes Hurt

  2. They Can’t Read as Fast as Their Peers (and Get Left Behind)

  3. “They Expect to Be Tested on What They Read – and to Fail the Test”

But there is another reason that may or may not have impacted Trump, but one that all of us should seriously consider as we evaluate our educational system:

  • They Have No Interest in the Material They Are Required to Read

This one is on the schools. Students have very little choice in what they are assigned to read in school. And the stakes are high; they get graded on how well the comprehend something that may be of little interest to them. Reading becomes a chore, and that often carries over to adulthood. That may well have happened to Trump, although there could be compelling evidence that he has been impacted by ADHD.

But it would serve us well to move away from “fun depressors” like standardized tests and and summer reading and allow reading to be fun.

Trump’s problems with reading is hardly unique. We already know that a disproportionate number of his supporters are educationally challenged. There could be many reasons for this, but it is worth considering that many may be people who as children wanted to learn, but for whom reading was an arduous experience in school.

The lowest hanging fruit in addressing this problem is summer reading. Summer ought to be a time when kids can experience freedom from deadlines, tests, papers, grades, etc. Pick up a book about anything that is of interest to you. But no. Reading what you want to read is often accompanied by the guilt of not reading what you’re supposed to read.

Even in a hi-tech world, reading is essential. Trump may be an extreme case of aversity to reading. But it would serve us well to move away from “fun depressors” like standardized tests and and summer reading and allow reading to be fun. We might well have a more educated electorate; one that is less likely to elect a Donald Trump.