Mostly Education, with a Smattering of Politics and Pinch of Personal

Apr 3, 2019 by

I just finished grading this semester’s major essay for my senior English classes.

My goal was to have each student read a book– cover to cover– and write a paper on that book.

Sound simple?

Not so much.

We are in an age in which the technology at our fingertips makes cheating ourselves out of an education marvelously easy:

Read the summary. Copy and paste someone else’s words and pass them off as your own. Rearrange them a bit if you like. Or pay for an online subscription to browse prewritten papers, and choose one to pass off as your own. Or if you’re a more sophisticated cheater with some cash in your pockets, pay someone you’ve never met to write your paper for you. Just send the ghostwriter a copy of your assignment and a credit card number and consider it done.

I am pleased to note that of the 118 essays I collected and graded over the past three weeks, only three evidenced academic dishonesty. However, this chiefly-positive result is tied to some notable, proactive strategizing to curb such cheating. For example, I compose writing prompts that are not readily answered by using summary websites or prefab papers for purchase. Too, I require my students to pass an interview with me in which we discuss the book that the student is supposed to have read. Finally, students must also be able to hold a conversation with me about their own paper, with the understanding communicated upon issuance of the assignment that students must pass their book and paper interviews in order to receive credit for their papers.

Passing these interviews is only difficult for those who have not read the full book and/or not authored their own papers.

When I explain my system– the efforts I undertake to help assure that students read entire books and write their own essays on those books– some friends and colleagues respond, “But that is so much work on you.” Yes, it is extra work for me, but it is also investment; word is getting out about how I conduct my major essay assignment, that I mean business, and each semester, more students are taking me seriously and doing what is truly good for them: reading an entire book and writing their own essay on that book.

In other words, students are more easily acquiescing to investing in their own learning, not just for college, but for life.

Learning should be lifelong, and excellence does not cut corners. Important lessons.

And yet, one can certainly make a buck off of corner-cutting.

Only minutes ago, I saw a commercial for Blinkist, a Berlin-based site that advertises reducing nonfiction books into 10- to 21-minute “reads.” The site advertises, “Fit reading into your life.” Then it reduces complex books into spoon-sized “key takeaways.”

Ironically, it could take longer to read– truly read, as in read and absorb– the Blinkist Magazine article, “Ideas Matter: Get Up to Speed on the World’s Best Nonfiction Books,” than it does to Blinkist-fast read some of the suggested titles themselves.

I remember Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, launched by Reader’s Digest Magazine in 1950, and no longer published (Reader’s Digest tried to perform a makeover on the series in 2015, but has since been discontinued.) The condensed books were shortened, yes, but not to a 10- to 21-minute read.

Too, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books tended to be works of fiction, and Blinkist is a nonfiction site.

However, with the profound amount of information readily available on the internet, and with much of America’s attention glued to electronic devices, reducing the time, energy, and intellectual commitment of reading a book to a “blink” might just be a suitable, 21st-century angle for making a fast-read buck.

You see, you don’t have to bother subjecting yourself to a complete book (or even a something so lengthy as a Reader’s Digest Condensed Books version). Blinkist hires readers to read complete nonfiction books and “distill” these books “into short Blinks” shorter than sitcom episodes.

The message?

Life is too fast for people to put forth the effort to read an entire work, to experience the pondering, processing, absorbing, and suspense, savoring, and enjoyment of the full read for themselves, so let’s just get to the point, store away (at best) a few, superficial talking points to toss about in moments when one wants to sound deep without having bothered to intellectually invest in depth.

There will always be a market in corner-cutting. I’m not sure of the point of paying Blinkist a monthly or yearly fee just to regularly read/hear 15-minutes’ worth of distilled nonfiction books unless it is to promote the image of being well read.

Excellence allows for no corner-cutting, and quality does not happen in a Blink.

Read the whole book. (And write your own paper.)

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Image from @book_tribe

Source: A Life Lesson: Don’t Cheat Yourself. Read the Whole Book. | deutsch29

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