"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
The Compulsion of Reading and Writing
Column by Dylan Delikta.
Exclusive to STR
As a self-proclaimed “writer,” I do not take the time to write as much as I often should. In fact, if I was a journalist in this day and age, I probably would have been out of the job and perhaps even evicted from my apartment (if I actually lived in an apartment, so to say).
I realize that right now I sound as if I am being a bit self-aggrandizing and not giving myself credit where it's due. And it’s true, I am not. I read a lot more than the average college student, and to be writing for a journal dedicated to the ideas of liberty is something to be impressed about given that most students would not even give writing the time of day unless a paper was due for class the next morning. Some days, I don't even acknowledge my friends because I take a couple of days to read books or catch up on articles and emails so I can improve my writing skills. Who knows? I might even have a future writing, and it all could start with this website.
So what is the point of me writing this right now? I want to try to explain why I do not write as often as I should, and perhaps even why those around me have such a low interest in even writing to themselves in a journal. It would also do well as to go into the brother of writing--reading--and see why so many have very little interest in that as well.
Why do people not like to read or write? Why is it that people do not find enjoyment in learning new ideas and then write to themselves or others about what they have learned, and how they may go about applying it to their life? To be honest, this is not the first time I have asked such questions. I have often pondered on this going through public school and my first year of college. There is not one person that I know who is going through or has gone through school who has not complained that they have to read a textbook, novel, or non-fiction piece, and then GASP(!) write an essay. Whether they rant furiously or speak quite simply, it was a given that such assignments were a hassle and that very little was going to be learned. I cannot leave myself out on this either; there were many an assignment that I couldn't care less for and so did not learn what could have been learned.
Over the years, this trait has become more apparent within the schools, and there have been many attempts to get students to read and write up to an arbitrary level which the heads of the schools deem as sufficient enough to let them graduate. Everything from remedial classes to alternative public schools has been tried, and yet nothing has improved. I witness all the results on my news feed on Facebook, and it’s not the prettiest thing to look at. As the saying goes, “One can lead a horse to water, but he can’t make the horse drink it.”
So what about the honors classes that focus even more on formal essays and reading? Surely they have kids who break the mold? Well, not so much. I was a part of these classes, and speaking for myself and others, we absolutely loathed doing anything that was assigned to us. Whether it was the books we read, the grammar we had to memorize, or the amount of essays we had to write to prepare for the big AP test, nobody wanted to read or write. I hated it to a point where I did not even read certain books or chose to take a zero for a grade on smaller writings. It was pointless to do something I felt I would only do half-heartedly in the first place. Even the students who were said to be some of the best writers in the class did not enjoy writing or barely even bothered to read the books assigned. If they did read the books and take notes, it was only because they were assigned to look for certain literary devices such as parallelism or catharsis, and any ideas to be espoused in the books were breezed over. They did not like doing what they did, but getting the grade was more important than whether they learned and enjoyed reading at the same time.
So why do people not like to read or write, and why did I not enjoy it for the most part as well? Do people really need to be forced to learn how or when to read and write? And in that question, one can find the root of the problem: force. What is it that is common in public, and private schools for the most part, that makes people not enjoy reading and writing, which could easily said to be the foundation of learning? It would be the state and its compulsory attendance and curriculum laws on the schools, and it would also be the state’s inherent deficiency in dealing with students on an individual basis. As Murray Rothbard pointed out in Education: Free and Complusory:
Within the classroom which students are compelled to be in, reading and writing is assigned to students with the threat that if they do not complete the assignment, they'll receive a lower grade, which brings up the possibility of summer school or being held back a year. In that statement alone arises much of the disdain for reading and writing. Firstly, students are already compelled to learn a subject that individually one couldn't care less or have the aptitude for, so any assignment that could be handed out that involves reading and writing evokes many negative emotions from the students. Any knowledge to be gained from the subject is then received by few or no students, and the time involved with it is wasted. Secondly, and most importantly, with reading and writing being closely linked to negative responses to each student, the chances are that most students will not want to read or write outside of the classroom where they are not forced to do so. It makes sense, too; if one is forced to watch the same show five days in a row at eight hours each day, how likely is it that she is going to voluntarily choose to watch that same show in her free time? By not allowing the individual student to have control of his or her total learning experience, the state, which is represented by the classroom, creates a feeling of contempt for reading and writing.
By looking into the institution that so many people and I have gone or am going through, it makes perfect sense why so many of us do not read or write outside of school. People absolutely hate being forced to do things, and that is what the state in the form of a school does with reading and writing. One cannot choose the subjects, methods, or teachers that he or she wants, and if there is any choice, the state decrees by law that certain things must be taught, which leaves less time for that person to actually learn the subjects that he or she enjoys. Through the monopolization of education by the state, reading and writing become a hassle, creating individuals that neither read nor write.
So what does this say about me and my lack of writing now for the most part? For one, I should not expect to be able to just jump right into something that I have learned to put off because of school. I hated writing essays, and I was the one student who would wait until close to the deadline to actually start writing (and reading a book if it was one I had little interest in), so to expect myself to be writing an article every other day right off the bat is a bit ridiculous for me now. It’s a good long-term goal to have, but it is something I have to work to achieve. For another, writing and reading as much as I do now is something that I should be proud of because it shows just how much I have already unlearned from attending school. While I may not be going at a rate that I would like, being where I am now still says something about the effort I have exerted to teach myself the subjects that I want. Am I still breaking off the habits that I have grown accustomed to during my years of schooling? Yes, but I need not bring myself down because of it. Being compelled to write has hindered my abilities, and the only way I will get better at writing is to continue on with it. At least now I can speak out about it.