READING AS A LIFESTYLE
Library Day Address at JUJA Preparatory & Senior School 27th July 2013
When did you get an education? My guess is that it was in primary school. Prior to this, nursery school gave you the tools you will use to acquire knowledge for the rest of your life. After the seventh grade, your knowledge grows in depth as you study various subjects. By the time you reach high school, you come to a fork in the road and are told that Arts and Science are the two branches of knowledge. In college you will be introduced to theories of knowledge and you will suddenly realize how broad this thing called knowledge really is. If you turn out to be a professional, you will apply some specific knowledge many times over to earn you an income. If you get to be an entrepreneur, you will use knowledge to create wealth. Knowledge is therefore a critical foundation to your current education but also your future success.
However, the most transformative education you received was between grade one and grade seven. In those seven years, you were introduced to new knowledge that transformed your worldview. Every one of those seven years changed your life. Every bit of knowledge you acquired in those years makes a mark on your future. What I do today, can be traced back to Miss Kinuthias grade five English class.
Back then, in primary school, I was a poor reader. My parents brought us up well and took us to the best schools, but I could never read as well as my brothers. They could read books in an evening that would take me a month to complete. By the time I reached secondary school, they told me I could only become a scientist because all I could read were numbers and formulas. I was given to the half brain of science and studied Physics in college.
It took me nearly forty years to find out that I had more than half a brain and that the only reason I could not read well was that I had only one eye. Reading frustrated me so I hated it. I wish someone had discovered this physical defect sooner; I may have made a better reader and read more books. Today my favorite subjects are leadership, history and some theology. My library is full of literature books. We learn several important principles from these transformative years of education;
1. The principle of READING
Reading is the path to knowledge without knowledge, education is useless. If you can't read, you can't access knowledge. Unless this sickness is treated early, you will become a half brain, which means you will not develop your full potential and only by the grace of God will you pass exams. However, reading is more than sounding off letters and numbers on a page. Reading is thinking, reading is creating, reading is travelling, reading is growing, reading is much more activity the you can ever imagine. Reading requires a huge amount of concentration and fully engages your conscious self. Reading is not staring at a page, it is being transformed by the information on the page. Reading without transformation is no more than sightseeing. The first principle of reading as a lifestyle is therefore – reading. However, there are other things that reading will do for you;
2. Principle of NEW
The fact that the reader is introduced to new knowledge stretches your mind and pushes the limits of your imagination to embrace a new ideas and thought process. The new, is always challenging even if it is not exciting. It always elicits a reaction. Your reaction to something new is your experience. The fact that it is a guided experience makes it manageable. You can control the power and pace of the experience. The fact that the experience is new, makes you a new person. Every person coming out of a library is a new person. New learning makes you a new person. The easiest way to teach something is not to parrot it over and over or cram figures and formulae. The easiest way to teach something is to introduce something new. Introducing a person to something new automatically commits that thing to memory. Hence the power of exposure is a key to true education. Unfortunately, only high cost schools emphasize exposure while not so privileged schools, believe that rote learning expands the mind. The amazing thing about books is that every page you turn is new! If you read books, you grow through every page of the books you read.
3. The principle of GROWTH
In primary school, the fact that you were only promoted to the next class proves, that you had a good grasp of new knowledge that accompanied your physical growth. Your mental growth accompanied your physical growth. The new knowledge became part of you. You cannot compare a grade three pupil with a grade five student. Even if their size is the same, what they know is different. What you learn changes you. That change is equal to growth. As you read you grow in power, potential and purpose. Reading grows your capacity to do something new, even if you never do it.
Those who get used to reading have less challenge changing, transforming and accepting new ideas. However, if you stop reading your body continues to grow without your mind. In the matatu culture, physical growth has far outstripped mental development. To develop a good reading culture, read good books, read some of the classics as well as science fiction read books that fill your mind with ideas and your heart with courage. Be careful what you read, there is dirty, addictive material available everywhere that can fill your mind with base and sinful thoughts. My best choice for a growing mind are biographies of heroes true life stories of great men and women. This reading uplifts your spirit and prepares you for life like no textbook can ever do. By reading the greatest, you set yourself up to be the best.
4. The principle of VALUES
Internalized knowledge creates a personal value system that powers you for life. The earliest value system is therefore the most important and most influential in a person's life. A persons values are much affected by what they learned from their parents, but the most powerful value system is what you learn in school. However, the opportunity to create a personal value systems is limited. By age 12 these values are already set, by age 18 it may be too late. If you don't learn to read in school, you are in for a hard life. The Bible says, "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it". Teach a child to read and you will have secured him for life. learn to read early and you will solve problems. If you do not learn to read, you will be a problem.
5. The principle of APPLIED
In primary school, no concept was passed over without testing, exercise and use. When you read a book you were tested on comprehension, imagination and understanding. You learned to interpret and apply what you read. Many of the challenges we have in society today are because people and leaders do not have any comprehension, imagination or understanding of what is going on around them. In other words we do not know what to do because we do not know how to read. If you pass through this critical stage of life without developing a reading culture you will have great difficulty living life, leave alone becoming successful. Today we live in the information age. Woe to you if you do not know how to read.
6. The principle of WRITE
We have talked much about reading but I want to leave you with a challenge, reading is not enough. A true reader, must also write. I am not the best person to write books. The best I ever got in my whole school career was a C- minus in English, but my grade 5 English teacher made sure that even if I was not good at English, at least I could write a composition. That is what I do for a living. Getting a good grade in school is very important, but in life it is the skill that is most important. Now is the time to develop your writing skills to serve you well in life.
A wise man said, "We become what we read". However, what we read is often foreign and makes us foreign. It is good to know what is foreign, but we must not lose the knowledge that is stored in the libraries of our languages, culture and local experience. We cannot be a nation if there is nothing we can truly call our own. Therefore my final charge to you is not only to read, but to write.
My generation has not been very good at this and for that I must apologize, but at the same time I must urge you to write stories, your experiences, compile local history, anthology, poetry, geography and medicine and fill libraries with the knowledge of Africa for this and the next generation. Compile Africa's wisdom and store up this knowledge for yours, and many generations to come.
Allan Bukusi is the author of How To Lead Corporate Transformation, How to prosper in employment, Big Seven and other books.