Deep Reading as Counterculture

By: Stephanie Gardella and Brandon Strickland

 

By contrast, deep reading requires human beings to call upon and develop attentional skills, to be thoughtful and fully aware. It teaches humans to be thankful for, and to celebrate, their full capabilities. It makes people, in other words, feel good about being fully human.” – Robert Waxler and Dr. Maureen Hall 

The digital age has drastically transformed the way we think, feel and communicate. No longer are the once cherished stories of such great authors as Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe evoking strong feelings and deep thought that they once did. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are replacing them and consume a majority of some people’s day. Sitting by the fire for hours reading a novel is a past time that is unlikely to be a part of the digital generations’ lives. The gravitational pull by technology is too strong for most. People may be reading more than ever on these social networks, but it is on a superficial level.

In Changing Lives Through Reading and Writing by Robert Waxler and Dr. Maureen Hall they argue that reading on these social network sites “does not require full thinking, full awareness, or full presence.” When it comes to reading, “quantity over quality,” certainly appears to be the maxim for the digital generation. In a time where people are more concerned with what someone is writing on their social network page, deep reading is definitely something that should be emphasized in the classroom. Sven Birkerts coined the term “deep reading” and defines it as, “the slow and meditative possession of a book.”

Although, students may claim they are doing some sort of reading while following Facebook or Twitter, they are not “deep reading.” Reading hundreds of posts about friends and families play-by-play of their mundane daily activities doesn’t exactly conjure about the same type of emotional reactions and deep thinking one would get from reading a novel such as Ernest Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms.” It is the constant need to be connected to others through an electronic medium that prevents people from losing themselves in a novel instead.

This is why deep reading is such a great addition to anyone’s life. Deep reading, being in their own world when they read a piece of great literature, can help people to form a reconnection with individuals on a different level that they could find on their computer. When someone participates in deep reading one could say they are immersing themselves in a counter-culture. They are separate from what they would normally be interacting with in society and their classrooms, work places, and personal life.

A counter-culture is characterized as a culture with values and ideals that run counter to those of an established society or alternative culture. This counter-culture is where they can find their inner self. When individuals, specifically students, are involved in deep reading they are put into a counter-culture that improves them as thinkers and learners.

Deep reading, according to Robert Waxler and Maureen Hall, “holds possibilities for helping people make meaning and journey towards full understanding of self” as well as helping them to connect to their text. Once they have a connection to their narrative they can begin to connect it with their lives on a personal and emotional level. Then they are able to connect better with others.

When students are in an environment where deep reading is utilized, they are able to get more out of the classroom. Furthermore, the counterculture they participate in when they practice deep reading can go beyond the classroom and their class work. It can help them improve as individuals, improving their life and their relationships with others. As a future educator I feel like reading of any kind is an important part of every student’s education, but especially the act of deep reading. We’re not only trying to help them be better learners but better individuals and better human beings.

Stephanie Gardella has a BA in English from Rhode Island College and is currently enrolled in the Post Bac Licensure Program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to gain certification in teaching English at the secondary level. She begins her student teaching in the Spring. She enjoys baking, singing, and spending time with friends and loved ones. She can be reached by email here.

Brandon Strickland is applying to the MAT-I Program at UMass Dartmouth with a concentration in middle school science. He currently has a preliminary license in general science 5-8 and works at the Stone Therapeutic Day Middle School as a permanent substitute. 
He can be reached by email here.


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22 thoughts on “Deep Reading as Counterculture

  1. Stephanie and Brandon: Yes, when we read “deeply” (especially narrative literature), we can be transported into a different place (which we help to create). And that place, for a while, does seem to offer different values and a different texture of life especially when contrasted with the life of quiet desperation (to think about Thoreau) which many of us live much of the time. Keep reading and keep talking about great literature!

  2. While social media tend to lend themselves to quick reading, I believe we can find a way to connect to that trend and link it to “deep reading.” When you discuss “deep reading” in this post, you seem to be talking directly about literature. But, I believe that deep reading can also be important with journalism and reading about current events – something else that seems to fall out of importance with younger students. But, deep reading of current events can be linked to social media (the Occupy movement, for example trends very high on Twitter). By encouraging students to use social media to find out about important events and then challenging them to research articles on those topics, perhaps a happy marriage could be created. This would also lend itself to “help people make meaning and journey towards full understanding of self” as helping students find a place in today’s society is very important. Just a different take on what you’re saying!

  3. While I agree that things such as face book and twitter are quick reading, your comments on authors such as Charles Dickens are incorrect as he released his books chapter by chapter. I also see that social networks can help people find new authors and books that they may no know about beforehand.
    It is also important to look at what they are reading as they can be doing “deep reading” but it is trash and not worth the paper it is printed on.

  4. I do think that there are advantages and also disadvantages based on social media/networks. The advantages for me seems like,for instance Facebook, it is a site where people get connected to other people in order to have a conversation with them or/and share different opinions. It is not mereley about reading mundane lifestyles of others. Since you can like whatever you want to on facebook, you can like and recommend at the same time books to your facebook friends who might have never heard of any mentioned books before. Besides, online reading on the internet is also possible. Sometimes it is a burden to go to the bookstore and pay money to read/get the book. Nowadays, people can easily intellectually improve themselves by reading all the deep valueing books by online. Therefore, you save time and money as well. Of course, when there are advantages, disadvantages always follow with. The deep reading as the previous people in our world have done, gives the reader a totally different connection to the book. You are literally “in to” it and for some people they can identify themselves better by reading it on the book and just being away from all the media connected facilities. I personally still like to read books because I like to mark heart-teaching lines/verses to keep themin my mind.
    Even this site/blog is a part of the social network which lead us to share opinions so let’s be open-minded to everything what we can get 🙂

  5. I really enjoyed reading this article. Deep Reading is something that really interest me. I must admit I had to read this article twice as the first time I had two task bars open ( facebook and email inbox). While reading the article it reminded me to place my focus on one thing only. Great work!- Kelley Mahoney

  6. I believe that though we are losing appreciation for books by great authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, that the appreciation is not completely gone…yet. I must say I’m guilty of using social networking sites, like Facebook, and I probably spend more time on Facebook than I do reading. I personally enjoy “deep reading”, reading that requires not only thought, but allows everyone to interpret it and have different perspectives. While I can’t say I’ve read a lot of literature that has required “deep thinking” lately, I can say that I would if I had more time. I find I have too many obligations during the day to take an hour or two to read. Counter-culture is important to recognize so that you can understand other cultures. but also ones self, like you mentioned. I believe it’s more important than ever to have school’s recognize the loss of the appreciation of fine literature and build it into their curriculum.

  7. It is fair to claim that technology and social media take away student’s desire to practice deep reading, but what about the education system itself? As a junior English major at UMD I have often felt cheated out of truly engaging with literature due to time constraints. Few professors seem to acknowledge the need for balance between quality and quantity, particularly and understandably in the survey courses. I find myself reading simply to get through the text and on to the next one in order to get the grade. At the end of the day, I feel disappointed.

  8. Technology has it place for sure. But the more technology usurps the power of books and work in the classroom, the further students get from “deep reading.” And the more the idea of learning changes, people change and the world changes. Maybe this is just the evolution of history. Technology was supposed to bring a “global village.” Now as the prevelance of “deep reading” recedes, if in fact it seems to, the more technology brings not a “global village” but a village of global idiots.

  9. Whether we like it or not, technology is here to stay. I am reminded of this every time I am waiting for one of my kids to finish with their Taekwondo lesson. In the waiting/observation room with me, besides a few other parents, there are always a handful of young kids that are either waiting for their own class to start, or waiting for a sibling to finish. They all have some sort of electronic device in hand, and there is not much conversation, unless it is related to a game one of them is playing. The other parents are usually of their laptops or cell phones. Even if it were just 10 years ago, I wonder how many of these folks would be using this time to do any kind of reading – “deep” or not.

  10. The comparison being made here, between social networking sites and great literature, seems similar to comparing green apples to green station wagons. They’re both green and many people pay money to own them, but besides that they’re not really comparable. I think a more relevant problem being created by social networking sites is that people are losing their ability to write. Constantly reading poorly structured sentences, incorrect use of grammar, and abbreviated words can make an individual lose sight or forget how to put together a piece of quality written work. For example, I have no idea how to use commas anymore, I just put them everywhere. I’m actually pretty confident that this paragraph is riddled with grammatical and structural errors. I blame this on the fact AIM became popular well after my last required reading & writing class. AIM improved my typing speed but killed my ability to write properly. I also believe the days of people reading Dickens by the fire ended well before the internet was available.

    I do agree that people are losing their interest in deep reading, but I attribute it to people being too connected to everything and multitasking beyond their limits. I believe a way schools and colleges can help their students stop, slow down, and think deeper would be to remove a lot of the technology in the classrooms and for colleges have smaller classes sizes. The way I learnt to love such authors as Poe and Hemingway was through school. A teacher would introduce me to a book I didn’t want to read, made it mandatory to read it, and then would discuss it in class in a deep and thought provoking way. I would have never been able to say that I like Shakespeare if it wasn’t for my 9th grade English teacher making my class read several of his plays and then everyday discussing and explaining to us everything we had just read the night before. She had no flashy power point slides or web based component to her lesson and none of my classmates had laptops open in front of them, but yet we all learnt how to thick deeper and see literature in a new light.
    I think if we want younger generations to be able to think deeper and appreciate great works of literature then they need what every other adolescent from past generations needed – to be taught how to think deeper about what their reading and to be given a space where they can practice their new skills.

    And lastly, I like what Chris S. said. I think encouraging students to look outside their direct environment (e.g. their facebook wall) and take interest in important events is a good idea. I think it wouldn’t hurt to have students use their social sites as a jumping off point for greater things. Sometimes people just need a friendly shove in the right direction to see that there is another direction.

  11. Annabel: As a long-time professor I agree that “a way schools and colleges can help their students stop, slow down, and think deeper would be to remove a lot of the technology in the classrooms and for colleges have smaller classes sizes.”

    This just isn’t going to happen. For one, schools now have investments in technology, so they must use it. Also, many educators, business-people, politicians think technology provides quicker learning (or production) and is therefore better. When I began to study English, in fact when I began college, education promoted the idea of learning in general. Educators wanted to teach students more to think, and think for themselves, than to learn a specific discipline, or to train for a career. Though, of course, the longer one spent in the educational system, the more education became about learning a specific subject. Not so much today.

    Right from the get go students are swabbed with the idea that education leads to a job. I rarely here teachers talk anymore about teaching students to think and, ergo, to teach them to read deeply. Teaching to learn information has replaced teaching to learn how to learn or how to think about ideas, processes, and information. Today more than ever, “time is money.” (We might track this back to the “efficiency experts” who began to rule business many years ago.) What we lose here is the effects of what happens when we read deeply. We lose a time and place to reflect before we act. We lose a sensitivity to the world around us. We lose a sense of the past. Technology seems to absorb us more in ourselves instead of what it is supposed to do, connect us more with the world around us and create in us a greater sense of the world.

    When I was a student we had a saying that Dr.Waxler has paraphrased: “Deep in is far out.” That’s what literature, books, and deep reading accomplished. Technology, it seems to me, just leads us deeper and deeper in, and we become so self absorbed we lose the “far out,” that connection with the world that encourages community in all its forms.

    With technology, without learning to read deeply, information expands exponentially and we lose human contact with it. The more we use technology, the more we become products of technology. Compare the human connectedness of technology to people and books to people. Which is the more human and humane, the more reflective and thoughtful, the more generous and less solipsistic?

    Technology for all the good it might do seems to be leading the world ever more quickly toward a terrible entropy.

  12. This semester in deep reading has really made me rethink my own connection to literature and how it has fallen off in the years, partly due to school and family abligations, and partly due to being easily distracted by electronic things. This realization actually made me give up facebook earlier this semester, sadly though, there is still no time for books. There is however time for reflection, which I wasn’t doing much of before. I agree with the authors that society is shifting in a completely different direction with the advent of social networking, and I worry what the long term affects on our brains will be?

  13. Deep Reading as Counter Culture is something that we have talked about extensively in EDU 525 with Dr. Hall. I agree with the fact that technology is taking us away from deep reading and the benefits that go along with it. As a future educator, I also agree with the fact that literature and deep reading should be used within every classroom. However, the fact of the matter is that as a college student living in the twenty-first century, I don’t have a lot of time to indulge in deep reading even though I would like to. I admit that as a twenty-first college student, I do indulge in Social Media forums such as Facebook and Twitter. I also use, Tumblr which I like to think of as a more mindful social media outlet. For the most part I like social media because it connects me to people in a simple in a fast way. That being said I don’t rely on Social Media as my only connection to those people – I still prefer one-on-one interactions with people. I try to achieve a balance between the social media world and the real world and I hope to extend that idea to my future students. For example, I own a Kindle. Through Amazon, I am allowed to download “Classic Books” such as Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, and the Catcher in the Rye – free of charge. The truth is that technology is here to stay and the only way to try and keep deep reading alive is to be able to work with technology and use it to the best of our advantage.

  14. I am sad that we have gotten to the point that deep reading is so far from the norm that students are almost unable to accomplish it without mindfulness training. For today’s students, deep reading requires a level of endurance that I might need to run on a treadmill. Their brains are constantly being distracted by other things – facebook, cell phones, mtv – as well as a society that, for the most part, devalues deep reading. As a high school English teacher, I strive to make students see the joy that they can get from deep reading….but may days I feel like I am shoveling sludge against the tide. I don’t think that technology is inherently evil, but I do think that it has created a societal “norm” that doesn’t value reading, and therefore a generation of children who see deep reading as something akin to eating vegetables or running on a treadmill; reading is good for them, but not something they enjoy.

  15. I am sad that we have gotten to the point that deep reading is so far from the norm that students are almost unable to accomplish it without mindfulness training. For today’s students, deep reading requires a level of endurance that I might need to run on a treadmill. Their brains are constantly being distracted by other things – facebook, cell phones, mtv – as well as a society that, for the most part, devalues deep reading. As a high school English teacher, I strive to make students see the joy that they can get from deep reading….but may days I feel like I am shoveling sludge against the tide. I don’t think that technology is inherently evil, but I do think that it has created a societal “norm” that doesn’t value reading, and therefore a generation of children who see deep reading as something akin to eating vegetables or running on a treadmill; reading is good for them, but not something they enjoy.

  16. While I believe the distractions of these social media websites so many of us immerse ourselves in every day are partially responsible for some of the “dumbing down” of this generations communication, literacy, and social skills, I do not believe that is what’s pushing students, or people in general away from the classics of Hemmingway, Poe, or any number of other notable classic authors.

    Our current educational philosophy however is failing our youth by continuing to clutch onto these extraneous novels. I use this word not because I think it accurately describes what we define as classical works, but because I believe the young minds of today, just like the young minds of yesterday hold on to the notion that old is boring, classic, is equivalent to irrelevant, and anything that is included in our school curriculum must not be worth reading in our free time.

    Children are not born with an inherent fear or dislike of reading, in fact most young children love reading the colorful and exciting books they start with. This adoration for books does not go away on its own, but as they continue through school their mandated reading material becomes less relevant to their lives, and thus the association students make to reading, changes to boring, dry, old, and irrelevant. Young students don’t easily form deep connections to Huckleberry Finn, or mad man Captain Abe. They instead form deep connections with Harry Potter, and Bella Swan, characters that also face trials and tribulations, challenges to their morals, and learn difficult life lessons.

    This is not to say that Harry Potter and Twilight are, or are not, on the same level as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Moby Dick, or that these particular novels are ideal for the classroom. This IS, however to say that novels like this will keep students interested in reading, keep relevant conversation flowing in class, and help eliminate the trend of our educational system being a leading cause of students disinterest in reading.

  17. While I believe the distractions of these social media websites so many of us immerse ourselves in every day are partially responsible for some of the “dumbing down” of this generations communication, literacy, and social skills, I do not believe that is what’s pushing students, or people in general away from the classics of Hemmingway, Poe, or any number of other notable classic authors.

    Our current educational philosophy however is failing our youth by continuing to clutch onto these extraneous novels. I use this word not because I think it accurately describes what we define as classical works, but because I believe the young minds of today, just like the young minds of yesterday hold on to the notion that old is boring, classic, is equivalent to irrelevant, and anything that is included in our school curriculum must not be worth reading in our free time.

    Children are not born with an inherent fear or dislike of reading, in fact most young children love reading the colorful and exciting books they start with. This adoration for books does not go away on its own, but as they continue through school their mandated reading material becomes less relevant to their lives, and thus the association students make to reading, changes to boring, dry, old, and irrelevant. Young students don’t easily form deep connections to Huckleberry Finn, or mad man Captain Abe. They instead form deep connections with Harry Potter, and Bella Swan, characters that also face trials and tribulations, challenges to their morals, and learn difficult life lessons.

    This is not to say that Harry Potter and Twilight are, or are not, on the same level as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Moby Dick, or that these particular novels are ideal for the classroom. This IS, however to say that novels like this will keep students interested in reading, keep relevant conversation flowing in class, and help eliminate the trend of our educational system being a leading cause of students disinterest in reading.

  18. While I fully agree that there is a need for deep reading in every life, I also see a myriad of troubles this practice faces in this technological day in age. There is little that students can’t get within 1 second at their fingertips through phones apps and internet. Deep reading takes time and solitude. If students were to tear themselves away from technology for one hour a day, they could easily fit a good reading session in, and I’m sure the only thing they would miss, might be someones post about how boring and pointless it is sitting in front of the computer all night on facebook. And while I feel that Brian H. has a very good point- while the lessons and meanings of classic literature are important, the vessel is irrelevant to students today and can be a bore; Moby Dick may be a time honored classic, but the language can be difficult for students to follow and it may be hard to form a deep connection to the content- But then I have to ask, is the content of whaling any more foreign to students than that of a wizard’s school? I also wonder that if a book as popular as Harry Potter had been introduced in the classroom first, would it suffer the same bore-factor as any literature students are asked to read?

  19. I have to agree with Bryan H’s comment regarding our current educational philosophy. The Great books do not capture our students like they should, thus making deep reading next to impossible. If our administrates could only allow their teachers to break away from the norm and provide their students with reading materials that actually interest them, then and only then will deep reading move our students away from social networking.

  20. Today’s generation is unlike anything human kind has experience before. Even a decade ago we didn’t have the advancements in technology that we have now. I personally grew up with technology; I had Nintendo 64, a virgin mobile cell phone and a myspace page. I used those products when I was the age of 11-15 now a Nintendo is almost considered ancient next to play station three. Our parents weren’t submersed with this kind of technology; they hardly had advertisements on television. Therefore they don’t understand what the obsession is with texting or facebook. Society now will put commercials up promoting us to buy this and want this and that and society responds by purchasing all these unnecessary items. These items like ipods, ipads, and cell phones are all what teenagers and young adults want. They then become distractions. Like mentioned in a previous blog above students have a tough time focusing on the readings and that it requires endurance. To be honest they don’t care what’s going on in the book because they are too busy tweeting about how much it sucks. I personally have noticed my best friends little sisters obsession with twitter. She is constantly tweeting and posting status during what would be regular high school class time. I asked her “do you get caught?” “Why are you tweeting during class?” “No I never get caught and school is boring.” It is a struggle for educators to get them to put down the technology and participate in class. Unlike these students I personally enjoy a good book, I enjoy deep reading, using my imagination to formulate characters and places. Reading is good for the mind and the soul, but unfortunately there is no time for me to sit by my imaginary fire place and reach chapter after chapter. My issue is college, but for many other Americans it the stress of work, debt and raising their children. Maybe its not just technology that is forcing people to reject deep reading, there could be multiple factors. Bottom line, today’s generation of teachers certainly has their work cut out for them, and soon I will be among the many trying to keep my students passionate about history.

  21. Hello Stephanie and Brandon!

    I’m very excited you decided to write about deep reading as a counter culture. Great topic! While I read I thought about deep reading as an emotional experience. Mary Immordino-Yang proved that people learn vicariously through other people’s actions (specifically when they read and act out those actions). Knowing this, deep reading becomes invaluable to education. Students must read, and think critically about what they read, in order to learn. Deep reading allows for us to have these vicarious experiences! Facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. may seem worthwhile to some, but these technological outlets may be robbing us of a good education. However, there’s hope. Students have to recognize (and perhaps be educated) about the dangers of being ‘over-connected.’ Then, maybe deep reading will be the norm instead of the counterculture again. Technology isn’t going away – and it shouldn’t. But, children must learn how to use technology in a way that still allows them to maintain their sense of wonder that can only be found in books.

  22. Stephanie and Brandon, although I agree with you regarding the fact that way we think, feel and communicate is changing, I don’t believe that that is necessarily a bad thing. Although many people are caught up in the quick reading that is associated with social media cites, for the people that are interested in deeper reading, the internet can be a very useful resource. Universities are making article and journal databases available to students through their websites. Blogs geared towards creating deep discussions and thought (such as this one), and even full text versions of books are provided through the internet. Opportunities for deep reading and thought are made more readily available through technology; If someone is willing to seek and then critically analyze the source of their text, the will find that the internet gives us many more opportunities to engage in deep reading and thought than were readily available twenty years ago.

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