I have never not done an assigned reading in my life. For anyone who knows me, this comes as no surprise, but I’m sure that doesn’t make me seem any less crazy. Surely I could get away with reading an online summary instead, or even with (dare I say it) skipping a reading entirely, so why have I not taken a perfectly legitimate easy way out? It’s not as if I wouldn’t cherish the extra hours of free time or sleep. Yet, not doing a reading has never even crossed my mind, and I think it’s worth exploring why as I navigate the heaviest week of reading my brain has ever come to bear.
The rule is that if you’re assigned a reading you do the reading. That’s the assumption the professors make and the assumption that makes logical sense. Barring sheer laziness, this rule seems to be broken when reading ceases to make practical sense in one's mind. When a reading is too complex, too long, or seemingly too irrelevant, people feel justified in not doing the assigned reading.
I’m kind of a rule-follower, which could explain why I never break the rule of doing all assigned reading, but this goes deeper than that. If I find a rule I think is utterly unfounded, I won’t necessarily follow it, but if I am assigned a reading that I think is a complete waste of time, I will always do it anyway.
The first reason why I don’t skip reading is that I don’t trust my judgment over that of my professors. I might see something as a waste of time but in my heart of hearts, I know it isn’t. Professors don’t craft their syllabi while cackling maniacally, rubbing their hands together, and daydreaming about the ensuing stress their students will endure. In fact, they spend hours agonizing over which texts to include in the course to best teach the material to us. We only spend a couple hours a week in class, so necessarily a lot of the learning has to happen on our own for us to be successful in the class.
I’m a bit of a worrier, but this can’t explain it either. Sure, I might be paranoid that the one day I don’t do the reading I’ll have a quiz or be called on in discussion or have to recall that particular reading for a test, but even in those instances when I know that a specific reading won’t come to bear on my grade in the class, I will always do it anyways.
The second reason why I don’t skip reading is that I do not consider learning to be merely a means of achieving good grades. Yes, I want good grades. And yes, learning helps me get good grades. But if learning’s purpose is limited to grades, then that implies that if I won’t be tested on certain material then I don’t need to know it, which just isn’t true. I believe that you can learn just for the sake of learning.
I’m stubborn as a moose in my belief that I can always know more, but that doesn’t explain why I do reading even when I know I won’t retain much of the content. I couldn’t tell you with much eloquence what my Introduction to Philosophical Problems readings were about a year later, and I could’ve predicted that at the time, but I always did the reading anyways.
The third reason why I don’t forego reading is that I believe in learning from the mere process of reading. Content aside, practice makes perfect, and the more I read the better I get at it. I get better at gleaning authors’ arguments. Reading improves my writing. As I read and encounter words I don’t know, I look them up and improve my vocabulary. There are so many opportunities in the printed pages of a text to get better at skills that will be of perhaps more practical use down the road than the actual information on those pages.
I’m competitive against myself, so naturally I’d want to know more than the Denise of yesterday, but I don’t think this quite explains my insistence on doing the reading either. There are an infinite number of easier ways I could learn something new every day than reading hundreds of pages.
The final reason why I don’t skip reading is that reading is what I’m paying an absurdly high tuition to do. Learning is lifelong, but after I am no longer a student of an institution, there won’t be anyone helping me learn by telling me what to read. I’m sure I’ll read on my own, but that reading will take on a different character than the reading I’m doing now. I’d hate to squander the opportunity to be exposed to as many professor-reviewed and endorsed readings as possible because this is the time of my life to read the hard things- when I’m paying to do so.
I fully realize that sometimes either by our own fault or by no fault of our own we run out of time and reading slips between the cracks, but I encourage students everywhere not to take the easy way out by skipping reading just because they can.
I remember back in elementary school the signs on the doors to the library that said, “Reading Opens Doors!” I hope by this point in this article (which I appreciate your taking the time to read by the way) you can read that last line and see it as more than a well-crafted pun. Don’t leave your doors, or your books, unopened.