Saturday, October 26, 2013

For your pleasure in this present state

Reading for pleasure and self-improvement has an enduring and emotive appeal, and through its close association with typographic print, with the book, and with immersion in literary fiction the idea has significant currency in recent debates in literacy education. This is indeed welcome when understood as a re-statement of the importance of the liberal arts curriculum in an educational landscape dominated by accountability and assessment regimes that carve up learning into measurable parcels. In England the backwash of testing in spelling and grammar is emblematic of how progress in literacy can result in learning that is parcelled up and quantified. As a counter-narrative then, reading for pleasure evokes everything that is good from individual choice and independence to interest-led autonomous learning - qualities that by their very nature elude measurement. Yet even though the challenge to an atomised and autonomous model of literacy is desperately needed, this should not place the idea of reading for pleasure beyond scrutiny. Reading for pleasure sits at the centre of a nexus of ideas about literacy that constitute an ideology that requires careful examination. Reading for pleasure derives its justification from a number of different traditions. What the Cox Report called 'cultural heritage' is a justification that draws on (well-deserved) pride in the tradition of English literature. How empathy and vicarious experience may develop moral virtue is a second justification, and one popularly articulated in Pinker's recent work. And since no educational debate now seems complete without a contribution from neuroscience, the influence of what we presume is immersive reading on our neural pathways surfaces here. But what might the challenges be to reading for pleasure in our densely mediated, highly mobile and increasingly digital world? This is the project I'm now embarking upon! Watch this space.....

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