It is beyond dispute that bookshops and libraries are the very reflection of a learned society. It also follows that the reading habits, and not merely the pattern or pastime, of its people show the degree of its academic culture and the depth of its intellectual civilization.
Indeed, if we will not focus on exposing our young to an environment of knowledge and instilling in them the value of education, then we will be left behind on the world stage. Books banish darkness, literature conquers ignorance, reading opens and sharpens the mind, and writing widens perspectives and ultimately develops character.
There is no doubt that an educational institution is the most appropriate place for the pursuit of higher learning. A university is an intellectual community where the primary objective is not only to educate our young but also to gear them to become independent and critical thinkers so that they can become responsible members of society and citizens of the world.
The paramount role of the school is unquestionable, because it is the venue where teachers mold and train the young to be the best that they can be, harnessing their fullest potentials and developing their inner character.
The teacher’s role is not confined to reading stories to students, giving them assignments, and delivering lectures on PowerPoint. Part and parcel of being an effective teacher is encouraging students to speak their minds and to discuss and analyze critically among themselves specific ideas in conjunction with their lessons.
It goes without saying that our students can only do so if they keep abreast with developments in all fields of knowledge. Hence, besides encouraging students to speak their minds, the teacher must also cultivate in them the love of reading and the passion for books. Such an intellectual culture will lead them to the joys of writing.
In preparing our young to be the next leaders of the country, they must be equipped with three weapons: speaking boldly, reading voraciously, and writing eloquently. As Sir Francis Bacon famously said, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”
The more students read and write, the more they will be open to all kinds of ideas and theories. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe put it thus: “If any man wishes to write in a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.”
Reading not only clears our thoughts, it also widens our perspective and enlarges our vision. It gives us, not a narrow, limited view of reality, but a world view of ourselves, of life in general, and of human existence as a whole.
Our duty as humans is to highlight the truth of the human condition through writing, public discourse, and social solidarity. We must encourage our young to read, write and express themselves. These are the indispensable requisites, indeed virtues, of intellect.
Reading will open students’ minds to the human condition and train them to form independent opinion and enlightened judgment. Writing will lead them to feel the profundity of their existence, the beauty of life and its corresponding daily struggles.
In the words of June Loh of Kulim, Kedah: “The treasure of knowledge also taught me to keep an open mind and not to accept another’s views blindly.
“Reading news and nonfiction illuminates the world for us and reading fiction gives us what nonfiction cannot.
“Through reading we travel and through books we find treasures. In those wanderings we find humanity, through the characters we find knowledge.
“As how human beings need to be fed, knowledge serves as nourishment for our minds.”
Reading and writing will build the character and individuality of our young, and ultimately complete their humanity. For where will they find and develop their humanity if not through these literary wanderings, their constant travels in books, meeting various characters and varied states of the human condition? And where to channel their efforts in searching for the meaning of life if not through continuous reading and writing?
But after the students are done putting their thoughts on paper, these thoughts will not acquire a life of their own if the teacher does not guide the discussion of and perhaps improvement on what they had written. That is one of the aims of a free and creative education.
We may not yet see the full flowering, but suffice it to say that the seeds we plant in the minds of our young will not be in vain. These intellectual tools will be of great use when they go out into the wide world and take their place in society.
It is our duty as educators to arm the young with the necessary intellectual equipment early on in their lives. It is our duty as humans and responsible members of society to cultivate the habit of reading and encourage writing both as a devotion and as a craft.
Jose Mario Dolor De Vega is a lecturer at the College of Arts, Department of Philosophy, Polytechnic University of the Philippines.