Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

We Make the Book by Reading: my pre #HortonFreire book club post

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

It is so appropriate that I start contributing substantively to this discussion by linking to a blogpost by (insert adjectives of warmth and love and admiration) Kate Bowles as she is the person who first linked me to my (illegal) copy of the book We Make the Road by Walking by Horton/Freire,  currently being read online led by Bryan Alexander (have been wanting to contribute since I heard of it coz i LOVE THAT BOOK. I just couldn’t find the version with my notes and highlights today so I downloaded a new copy and won’t include specific reflections on the book in this post).

The reason Kate’s post encouraged me to write is that she started her post by calling herself a terrible reader (which I am sure she isn’t… But I assume she means she is a different kind of reader? Will come back to this). She also talks about something I share with her – she dislikes assigning readings in her classes (as do I and we have both seen great learning come out of this pedagogical approach of encouraging students to find their own readings and share – we all learn that way).

So I don’t know for sure what Kate means by being a terrible reader. I am a terrible reader in the sense that I love reading so much and I read a heck of a lot (books. Articles, magazines, blogs, signs, whatever! Digital or physical, ownee borrowed or pirated – i don’t care)…but I resist reading what someone else compels me to read if I don’t feel convinced I should read it (I resisted reading the original Marx and Habermas and only read some Foucault and Derrida; I still won’t read Deleuze and Guttari) but persist in what I find most interesting and compelling and relevant. I also sometimes read the same thing over and over deeply. Other times skim. And with books, I haven’t read a book linearly since I finished my PhD. I find parts that interest me and read those and reflect on them. So for the Horton Freire book I say I love it but I have only read parts of it before. I probably won’t stick to anyone’s schedule but I will probably read other people’s posts (interested already in how others are describing experiences of teaching their kids to read as I struggle with this myself – seeing how she is so interested in reading but still doesn’t “get” it and how some other kids do while her school seems a little slow.. Wondering if she will be an advanced reader the way I was as a kid and if she will grow to love it not be a technical reader….that matters so much to me and scares me)

When I say “we make the book by reading” it’s similar to “we make the road by Walking”. Because you don’t literally make the road. Someone has actually made the road (see Kate’s story of the Toad). Just like someone has already written the book, before you read it. The practice of walking the road yourself modifies the experience of the road than that which was intended by the creator, just as our practice of reading (alone or together in a book club or via hypothes.is annotation for example) modifies what the book is and means for us. And continuing with Kate’s example about the new open source social network Mastodon…we make our networks by connecting, even though someone else wrote the actual code to make the network. The difference, i think, is that with an open source Social network, there is potential to make (or ask someone who knows how to code) the network AND use it to connect. And in a class, you can literally make the (untext) book as Laura Gibbs does with her students; as Kate and I do with having students curate their own readings. 

For my next post.. I plan to select some of my favorite parts of Horton/Freire from a previous reading a long time ago. And maybe reflect on what others have been posting so far… Social reading, as I was telling Bryan Alexander the other day, is so valuable to me because I spent most of my PhD in such a lonely space where no one around me could carry a conversation about the stuff I was reading. There was no Graduate School of Education for most of it, American educated ppl talked differently about research than my UK university, and most people in my immediate surrounding didn’t have PhDs or academic experience in social sciences. And even some years were even more isolated from academia living abroad with husband (joining non-academic book clubs which were v cool) or at home on maternity leave. Never mind 🙂 we got social, distributed book clubs now!

4 Comments

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  2. What I mean by being a bad reader is that I don’t read linearly or diligently. I’m an associative thinker, so I’ll dip into one thing and it will send me scattering off to a thing in a whole other place. I read from the middle of a book outwards in both directions, but I do come back to it over years so that eventually I have the whole thing like a jigsaw puzzle. But this is a really inefficient way of reading, so I also then don’t read everything else that person wrote. I don’t achieve coverage — I’m not a housepainter so much as a disorganised collector.

    But I think what Horton & Freire have in mind about making paths by walking, from the original poem, also includes the possibility of making where there is no path; rather than making your own copy of a book by forking a given thing as you read, and making what you do out of that. The poem that the title cites includes an image of the ocean where there are no paths, and because i live by the sea I think about this as a claim that’s perhaps countermanded by currents.

    So then currents as a metaphor has me thinking about how we are all at the moment feeling the tug of a dangerous undertow that has some relation to education, and some to the idea of truth. What does it mean to give up the struggle to stay above the waves in these conditions?

    • yes…thanks for explaining, Kate. So I guess you sort of meant that you read similarly to me (non-linear, associative). I like your emphasis here on creating paths that didn’t exist and taking this to forking as we read.

      “give up the struggle to stay above the waves” you say? Or do you mean we are all currently in that struggle and the risks of not struggling are so high?

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