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Jennifer Ackerman's The Genius of Birds and "Radical" Ways of Reading and Learning

July 16, 2020

Too many people in this country do not read beyond required assignments in schools. There are a number of reasons for this dearth of reading, but all of them point a substantial number of Americans struggling with basic concepts, often existing just above or at functional illiteracy. Educators have been blamed for years for this lack of reading ability despite politicians’ intrusion into education in a way that has been fairly disastrous for children, as well as educators.

 

Educators are too often bound by mandates from higher up, limiting their ability to approach teaching in more creative ways that have the potential to change the way students, and later adults, view reading, thinking, and learning.

 

The "radical" idea is really rather simple: allow students to choose books that interest them and then find a new subject within that book to seek out in another book. Give them time to read and formulate questions about the reading (not tests or quizzes). Each new book would build a knowledge base upon the last idea encountered, gradually increasing that solid foundation. "Testing" could be devised around students' ability to create questions about the work they have encountered.

 

For example, after reading Jennifer Ackerman’s nonfiction book The Genius of Birds, I was struck by the number of new topics around which I wanted to find out more information. Everything from symmetry in art to brain patterns in humans in contrast to birds; Darwin’s ideas on similarities between human and animal cognition to impacts of climate change; trade-offs between intelligence and fitness; regional dialects to toolmaking abilities; innovation relationship to brain size; behavioral drive theory to dinosaur ancestry of birds; human aesthetics to environmental stressors—all of which were raised in Ackerman’s fascinating book.

 

A reader, one curious and unafraid of failure, sets off to find other books delving into these topics, all of which continue to expand ideas and knowledge. Readers who do not value life-long learning or reading continually narrow rather than expand their worlds.  Frustration, anger, and road-blocks seem to be the end result, not only for students but adults. 

 

Readers who are allowed to choose and select source material

 

at will find a fascinating universe and unlimited exploration at their fingertips through books.

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