Improving Lifelong Reading

Professors of the humanities taught Education Week guests about methods, tools and mediums that would help them along their journey of lifelong reading.

IMG_4692 copyPROVO, Utah (August 24, 2015)—Education Week: when thousands of men and women from all over the country convene on BYU campus in the pursuit of an education that continues beyond degrees and diplomas. The Joseph F. Smith building was filled with such visitors being instructed by teachers and by the Spirit, specifically as they worked to “seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:118).

Through the Lifelong Reading series classes – taught by BYU professors Steven C. Walker, Travis T. Anderson, Gideon O. Burton and Cherice Montgomery – visitors learned how to improve their reading of fiction, nonfiction and scripture, aiding their commitment to lifelong learning.

Reading the Bible Better than the Best Book You Have Ever Read, by Steven C. Walker

“I think we all agree we could be better readers of scripture,” Walker said as he began his remarks. With a class filled with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he felt that his audience was already well acquainted with the Bible and other books of scripture. In fact, Walker felt many of his students were already on par with the best of scripture scholars. That, however, was the problem.

“The problem isn’t that we’re not great readers of the Bible,” he explained. “The problem is we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ve already read it.” Changing this attitude is the difference in reading the Bible simply for review and reading it for new and greater understanding. Walker then outlined ways that his students could revitalize their Bible study.

Walker first challenged his students try a fresh perspective­­—as if reading the Bible for the first time. “Much of our Bible reading limits itself to reviewing,” he said. Typically, readers go to the Bible to reaffirm their faith or to justify beliefs they already have. They avoid challenging themselves and so are denied personal growth. “We might discover more of what’s in the Bible and what is not already in us,” Walker said, “looking not for what we already know, but for what we need to know.”

He next challenged them to approach the figures of the Bible as actual people, not stoic role models set on pedestals. “Bible folk just aren’t Sunday-school stereotypes,” he said, and explained that recognizing their flaws becomes important as we examine how they overcame these flaws or succeeded in spite of them, making it easier to “liken all scriptures unto ourselves.”

“We limit ourselves when we limit our vision,” Walker concluded, reemphasizing that we don’t know the Bible as well as we think we do. “The major message of the portion of the Bible that we’ve sealed from ourselves is ‘There’s more.’”

Greek philosophersThe Spiritual and Intellectual Rewards of Including Philosophy in Lifelong Reading, by Travis T. Anderson

In his Allegory of the Cave, Socrates concluded that “seeing the divine light of the good is the goal upon which anyone who would act rightly and rationally . . . must have her eye constantly fixed. And this ascent and heavenly vision is the goal of all true philosophy.” In his Lifelong Learning class, Anderson taught that this sentiment still holds true for philosophy today and defined philosophy as a spiritual and intellectual journey toward the light of rationality and goodness.

According to Plato’s Symposium, “What we really desire when we seek after truth – when we seek after knowledge – is to become like God,” Anderson said. “We want the knowledge that God has, the immortality that God has, the eternal nature God has implanted in us.”

Despite philosophy’s roots in spiritual aspirations thought and its influence on early Christianity, many members of the Church still view philosophy with suspicion and dismiss it as a poor substitute for the Gospel. Anderson, however, believes that philosophy and the Gospel, like reason and faith, supplement each other.

“Some of the most remarkable readings of the scriptures that I’ve experienced myself have come from our students, as they have learned to read texts carefully, critically and systematically,” Anderson said. “They take their philosophical skills and that knowledge to the scriptures, and they see a whole new world of possibilities opened up to them.”

The skills one develops in studying humanities and philosophy not only enhance lives on a personal level, but on a social level as well. Studies have determined that a philosophical and literary education enhances students’ empathy and willingness to serve others. In this, students of philosophy can acheive what Anderson described as the ultimate purpose of philosophy: “To reflect the light that God gives us.”

6434968719_f0f14024db_oKindling Reading through E-Readers and Social Media, by Gideon O. Burton

The journey of education is ongoing, and the road becomes more sophisticated as it advances, as do the tools involved. In his session, Burton explained the benefits to embracing e-books, the new way to read books on mobile devices.

As a professor, Burton is familiar with student complaints of the weight of textbooks, a complaint that disappears entirely when heavy hardcovers are replaced with a digital book accessed through an e-reader, smartpad or other mobile device. And not just a single book, but an entire library’s worth, all accessible through a single outlet, complete with study tools and note-taking capabilities.

Where once your access to a new, highly anticipated book was determined by distance to or availability at bookstores, or by library waiting lists, books are now instantly available. Combine that with a growing social media centered around books that provides book suggestions and discussion, and no one with an e-reader need ever be without something to read.

Despite all the pros of using e-books, many people are still staunchly opposed to them. Whatever their reasons, many feel that to accept e-books is to reject print. Speaking to this group, Burton said, “When we go to e-books, we don’t have to give up our love of printed books. We can use both.” Just as type didn’t do away with handwriting, printed books are not being threatened by e-books. “Don’t give up your printed books, but let e-books do well what they do well.”

5913124811_36cc399f44_o“By Small and Simple Things”: The Transformative Power of Children’s Literature for Adults, by Cherice Montgomery

When seeking wisdom out of the best books, few people think to consider children’s books as among that number. These books are often and easily dismissed, a mistake that Montgomery cautioned against in her Lifelong Reading session.

Though intended for children, the most successful children’s books are actually aimed at adults – parents and grandparents who ultimately hold purchasing power. And whether they buy a given book is dependent on how well that book and its story make a personal connection with them.

“Stories are very fundamental for us as humans,” Montgomery said. “They connect us to ourselves, to our world and to each other.” Citing John Rosenberg (former dean of the College of Humanities), Montgomery described this as the human conversation. Participation in this conversation changes the way we see ourselves and the world and then changes what we ultimately believe is possible for both.

According to Montgomery, children’s books engage us in the human conversation by relating meaningful messages through their stories; simple, but often profound. What appears to be just a story about a leaf falling from a tree actually teaches about accepting death. A giraffe failing to dance at a jungle party teaches about practice and determination. Though aimed at children, these and other messages are just as important for the adults reading as they are for the child being read to.

“Good children’s literature,” Montgomery said, quoting Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe, “appeals to the child in the adult as well as the adult in the child.”

—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)

Samuel covers college events for the College of Humanities. He is a senior pursuing a degree in American Studies with a minor in editing.


Greek Philosophers” by Matt Neale
Fahrenheit 451 e-book on the Kindle” by Richard Unten
Children’s Literature” by Denise Krebs