College students often complain about having to read long assignments for classes. Perhaps they consider themselves visual learners or have trouble focusing when reading. Others say they do not need to finish the readings to pass the class.
These objections miss the point of the reading assignment, which is not to exercise one’s eye muscles as they scan the page but to give their brain a workout. Reading builds thinking power by pushing the student beyond their preexisting learning comfort zone.
The experience of reading allows students to benefit from their education in a fuller, richer way. Imagine an English major who learns many bits of trivia about literature but never actually engages with the beauty of the prose and poetry itself, never experiences the thrill of eagerly turning the next page to find out how the hero wins.
Imagine a Bible major who learns the interesting facts about the Bible but doesn’t experience the power of the Spirit’s work through the words of the Bible itself. Churches are littered with enough pastors who know a lot but don’t live in the power of God’s Word.
“But reading it takes extra time,” someone objects. Yes, but learning is the point of college. Students can hardly complain if learning fills much of the time of life specifically devoted to learning.
“But pictures are better than reading because a picture is worth a thousand words,” someone else objects. Yes, a photo can communicate faster, but at the cost of depth. Those who make the commitment to actually read words find qualitative benefits that outweigh the pragmatic benefits of instant image-based communication. Photos primarily create an emotional reaction instead of thoughtful reflection.
Readers learn to follow abstract thought, where the deeper levels of thinking happen. Without the ability to think abstractly, conversation rarely moves beyond the mundane experiences of life. Non-readers are left recycling boring life updates instead of exploring fascinating depths of philosophical, scientific and theological questions.
Ads used to include lengthy paragraphs explaining the product’s benefits, but now ads rarely include more than a single slogan. Past generations read books for hours, following complicated lines of reasoning. Today, people can barely get through a 15-second TikTok video.
People’s unwillingness to read words means news articles now often use single-sentence paragraphs, to the horror of English teachers.
More practically, reading can help a person learn more efficiently. Humans speak much slower than their hearers can understand, a fact many people exploit by playing videos at increased speed. The average person speaks at between 150-170 words per minute. However, the average college student reads at between 250-350 words per minute, and some can read much faster. Reading allows faster learning than listening to a lecture or conversation.
Even reading when the assignment seems boring helps; staying engaged with familiar information builds patience, which is crucial for listening to conversations in real life. People appreciate empathetic listeners, even and especially when the listener has already heard a similar story.
However, the more fundamental reason to read actual words comes from embracing a commitment to know more about topics before speaking about them. Barely reading a headline does not qualify someone to intelligently discuss a news item. Skimming a passage in the Bible does not adequately prepare someone to lead a Bible study on it.
The world has enough problematic, ignorant opinions polluting public opinion. We don’t need to add our preliminary prejudices to the pile.