English Department Report: this just in - reading makes you a better mathematician

Sunday 31st March 2019

Let’s begin with a startling fact. How do you get better at Mathematics? Now, I’m sure Mrs Anderson and her wonderful crew can come up with all sorts of answers to this, quite possibly involving the square root of pies or some such. The English department’s answer is much more interesting: read.

Yes, that’s right, reading makes you a better mathematician. Sullivan and Brown report ‘a positive influence of ... 9.9% in mathematics .... in students who read frequently.’ (2013). Actually, reading makes you a better everything, perhaps most importantly, a better human being.

Reading is an act of pure empathy - what else is it that you are doing when you are absorbed into an article or autobiography, if it is not truly stepping into someone’s life and living their world for a time - you know what I mean - shoes, miles etc. (And if you don’t, I recommend 'To Kill a Mockingbird'). The time we spend with the narrator or characters of a text is long. It is considered and rich. We are able to really see what makes them human, often what makes them remarkable and - most importantly, what their flaws and weaknesses are. And, if you disagree with this, I recommend ‘The Other Hand’ by Chris Cleaves, and ‘The Hate You Give’ by Angie Thomas. Actually, I REALLY recommend both these to every person on earth.

Reading is deep, thoughtful, slow and involving. I know that technically, what you do when you scroll through Stuff on your phone is also reading. Reading that is shallow, mindless, fast and oddly involving - in that you will scroll and swipe more and more and more, once your attention is sucked into that void. By the way, if you’re looking very very involving, thought-provoking long reads, I highly recommend 'Unsheltered' by Barbara Kingsolver and 'Bridges of Clay' by Marcus Zusak. You have to stick with both for 150 pages before they open up for you - but this is absolutely worth it.

In case you’re wondering, this is still the report of the English department. I know it is sounding a little evangelical. But we have a built in spot of time after lunch for every student to read, everyday. The McGlashan SSR programme. And it is a waste of time. If all that time involves is your son picking up whatever he can find lying around and skimming through the pages for a few minutes, the benefit will be negligible.

This is why we want your help. The English department is on a two-front campaign. Front one is enthusiasm - we’re modelling our own love for books and having students share theirs too. Part two is badgering. We’re insisting our students have a book with them at all times, and giving them grief if they don’t. We’d like you to be enthusiastic badgers too. Because it works. We’d like you to put down your phones, and pick up a book, very obviously and in front of your son. We’d like you to ask what he’s reading, how long he’s been reading it for and what he’s reading next. If he says, ‘I don’t read’ ask him how he spends the 30 minutes per week of time where he has to at school (you might also want to consider invoicing him for 2% of his school fees, as you’re not getting your full money’s worth out of him at school. (30 minutes as a percentage of 25 hours of learning time = 2% - according to Mrs Anderson).

Encouraging your son to stick to reading, despite the competing shallow jangly distractions of the screens they carry with them, will help make him a more intelligent and capable learner. Our highest performing students are readers. This is the case for every school, everywhere. And don’t believe him if he tells you he doesn’t like reading. It’s just that he hasn’t found the right book yet. Mrs Garry in the Library can help him, so can his English teacher, so can his mates. I can’t stress enough how much of a difference this can make.

‘Encouraging a child to read and keeping them reading is the single most important thing that can be done to influence positive outcomes in young people’s lives - socially, culturally, educationally and economically.’ 
(Clark and Rumbold, 2006, cited in English in Aotearoa, 2014).’