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  • Writer's pictureDavid Youngblood

Uncompassed in a sea of sentences

“Uncompassed in a sea of sentences”

--Mark Edmundson

It seems to me students new to the art of reading, particularly the classics, often lack direction. They have the intent and the desire to move somewhere with their encounter with the text, yet they far too often are overwhelmed by the uncertainty and may lack confidence once the exacting task of reading begins.

The teacher’s role in all of this is much like that of a pilot--guiding the ship past the rocky shoals and treacherous currents that can lead it to harm. Of course I’m not talking about physical or even emotional harm, but rather misinterpretation and misunderstanding which can result in its own catastrophes.

The compass we as educators should provide as guide is one that is steady, built on personal investment, and built upon the proper set of questions to ask the reader to demand answers from the text she encounters.

It's the sort of thing best modeled for students, not thrown at them as an expectation in some well-intentioned group reading session or literature circle. Teachers should be prepared to work shoulder to shoulder with their charges, developing them to become pilots on their own, to select and find compasses and know how to use them. Our students need authentic pilots, not technologically dependent quick fixes, which, should the power or connection disappear, leave the reader helplessly foundering, “uncompassed in a sea of sentences” as Mark Edmundson in The Heart of the Humanities puts it.

Direct involvement in the literary experience is essential in building strong, confident and competent readers--readers capable of thinking and responding on their own, not merely skimming and scanning and sharing and posting the thoughts of others. It’s a brave new world out there, a world which demands not only competence but confidence as well.

Good teaching is piloting the ships in your charge, in fair wind or foul.

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