The Importance of Reading the Classics

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Oct 17, 2017 01:43
Back in high school, we students were required to study excerpts of classic works in Mandarin class. Apart from that, there was a semester-long project where we picked themes ourselves and wrote book reports. However, none of us liked reading or thought it was completely a waste of time because we had to prepare for the Gaokao (China’s SAT).

Today one of my coworkers told me that she was picking a book for her kid’s reading project but had no idea which one to choose. She said her boy acted like she was pulling his fingernails because “she’d picked several boring books and forced him to read.” She asked me whether I had a good one to recommend.

To be honest, I couldn’t think of a good one off hand, because it depended on her kid’s interest. The kid could read literally any book his wanted, as long as it was reading-level appropriate, be it a thriller or a children’s book. We can get kids to really push their limits if we allow them to pick things that they care about or are interested in, instead of forcing them to read classic works, not only because the texts are abstruse for them, but also because, in my opinion, one has to live long enough to acquire more context to understand those books.

Life experience definitely helps one relate to characters more. For example, recently I read Bai Juyi’s poetry (Tang Dynasty) for pleasure, and it blew me away. I loved every page of it, but as I read it, I thought back to high school and realized that I’d have probably hated it back then because I didn’t have the depth of experience to appreciate it. Many schools do their students a disservice by foisting books like that upon them at too early an age.

However, reading classic works does benefit students in many ways, especially in this social media era when it’s far too easy to create an echo chamber. Forcing them out of their comfort zones and exposing them to different ideas and cultures, together with art and values that can stand the test of time, is important. I think there might be a middle ground, where students can read books they enjoy but also which stretch them a little bit. Practically speaking, that’s difficult though.

读高中的时候,我们要在中文课上学习名著的节选。除此之外,我们还有一个学期的任务,要求自选书目,写书评。但是我们都不喜欢阅读,同时也认为纯粹是浪费时间,因为我们还要准备高考。

今天我一个同事告诉我,她正在帮她儿子为学校布置的读书任务选一本书,但是不知道选哪一本。她说她之前选了几本,但她儿子感觉被要了命似的,因为”她净选了一些难书,还逼迫他读“。我同事问我有没有好书推荐。

说实话,我一时还想不起有什么好书,因为这要看她儿子自己的兴趣。只要阅读难度适中,不论是惊悚小说,还是儿童书,她孩子想读啥都可以。如果要让孩子扩大阅读量,我们其实让孩子们根据自己的兴趣来选书,而不要一味地逼迫他们读世界名著。我个人觉得,世界名著的文字对于他们而言,过于深奥难懂,而且我们需要积累相当程度的生活阅历才能真正读懂这些书。

生活阅历真的可以帮助一个人懂得书中人物的处境。比如,最近我读了白居易诗集,入了迷。但是,当我回想起我读高中的时候,自己肯定不会喜欢读这些书的。因为当时没有啥社会阅历,无法品尝书中的酸甜苦辣。很多学校过早地把名著强加给学生,其实是没有多少益处的。

但是,阅读名著在很多方面对学生还有裨益的,尤其在社交媒体时代,人们很容易失去独立思考能力。而通过阅读书籍,让学生们走出舒适区,了解不同的思想,不同的文化,还有那些能够经得起时间考验的世界观价值观,还是很重要的。我觉得还是存在一些折中办法的,学生可以读自己喜欢的名著,而且难度在跳起来能触碰到的范围。虽然,实际上做到这一点很难。