I have an admission to make: I still get a newspaper delivered.
My colleagues, who usually see me as a proponent of technology, always on the side of the tech-progressive pushes at our school, might be aghast at this.
But yes, I’m still supporting the dead-tree industry. This is despite the fact that I’m environmentally minded—my wife and I do worm composting in the basement, my baby daughter is wearing cloth diapers right now, and part of the reason why I love living in a big city like Philadelphia so much is that it’s much more energy efficient. Nonetheless, every Sunday morning I’m woken up to the sound of two pounds of the Inquirer bouncing off my front door.
So, why do I do this?
I could wax nostalgic about my days as a paperboy—early June mornings, ink-stained fingers, life lessons learned and the like. I could say that it’s just inertia—I’ve had the paper delivered for years and I’ve just never gotten around to stopping it. I could talk about the way a newspaper feels in your hands—getting the reverse fold just right and so on. But none of these are the real reasons.
The truth is, I like reading from paper. Early in the morning, when I know I’m going to spend a good part of my day staring at a variety of devices, I just can’t face the harsh glow of a screen to start my day. I also find that I read more slowly and deeply when reading from paper. I don’t just hit topic sentences and conclusion paragraphs, I read the whole thing.
And yet, last week, during a conversation with my department about electronic vs. paper reading, I found myself singly defending electronic reading for our students. Why?
The biggest reason has to do with preparing students for the reality of their future. In ten years, how many companies will still be making their employees read from paper sources that are clunkier, slower, and costlier, when electronic texts are faster and cheaper? How many college textbooks will still be around, weighing down backpacks and draining students’ meager bank accounts? I would hazard to say, very few. And yes, I’ve read this article, but clearly there is an overall trend, and that trend shows paper print going in the direction of Blockbusters and travel agents. Or maybe more aptly, stone tablets and papyrus.
If we really want to live up to our mission to make kids “college and career ready,” we’ll give them electronic texts, and lots of them. As educators, we need to take an unflinching look at ourselves and ask how many of our decisions are guided by our own biases and perceptions, and how many of our choices are based on what is really best for students.
And I’m not saying that students are going to like it (because yes, I’ve read this article, too). Just like me, a lot of them prefer to read print for the same reasons as I do. But sometimes, we have to make decisions for kids that are best for them, even when we meet resistance.
We also need to teach them how to read electronic text: slow down their reading, reread parts they didn’t understand, annotate—classic reading strategies that we’ve been using for years. Just like how we need to teach them how to use social media responsibly and be good digital citizens, teaching them to read e-text is one of those skills that adults need to provide for students in this ever-changing world of technology where there is no standard operating procedure yet.
So, the next time my paper delivery renewal comes up, I’m honestly not sure if I’ll shell out the money for another six months. Because maybe instead of getting the newspaper, I’m the one who needs to change. I need to reteach myself how to read digital text and redevelop the art of reading for the electronic age.
What I do know is this: after my morning coffee and newspaper, I get to work where there are tons of emails to respond to, tweets to read, articles to digest, and essays written on Google Docs to grade. And my old newspapers, what happens to them? After they’re read and have outstayed their welcome in our living room, they’re shredded up and fed to the worms.