In The Lonely, Good Company of Books, Richard Rodriguez talks about his effort and struggle in reading tough books. From his experience which tells us that reading difficult books for a sense of self-achievement is not a good way to read, he is criticizing the education system because of its little help in students’ reading.

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Rodriguez just reads for a sense of accomplishment as it brings him confidence after helping him to conquer the awkward silence during reading time. The idea that “books will make ‘educated’” helps him “to overcome fear of silence” while reading. Therefore, he asked the teachers for the names of important books and went to the library to borrow difficult books and began “a grandiose reading program”. After finishing a book, he “reported achievement” and enjoyed the praise from the teacher. A reader who seeks wisdom or enjoyment would not want others to know what he or she has read so eagerly except when what he or she wants more from reading is praise. The enrichment itself from the ideal reading result will bring a reader enough confidence and comfort so that the compliment from teachers is of little significance compared to what a reader really gains from reading. When he was older, he read

In fact, Rodriguez was never an active reader although he always wanted to read more. In high school, he still followed the book list whose titles he could not overlook. He never knew what kinds of books were most interesting to him. He blindly followed the book list without even realizing what he needed. Rodriguez uses “look at” rather than “read” to describe himself when reading Republic. If he had been an active reader, he would have felt the passion, admire the reflection or raise some arguments when reading. However, the exercise of reading was merely a task and every word was cold to him. What Rodriguez was enthusiastic about was never the content of the book but the ability to claim that he had finished it. In reading Republic, he realized the problem of his reading itself. He mocks the experience by describing his feeling after reading with “in a ceremony of great pride”. His tone is very ironic. Behind this irony is his negation of this kind of reading since he actually got nothing.

His problem came from the education system. Otherwise, he would have found the joy of reading in school year.

First, school did not help children to gain the right attitude of having a book. He was told to “consider books your best friend” and “don’t write in books” when he was young. The emphasis on the physical appearance of books made students unable to actually get closer to books. In How to Mark a Book, Adler claims that the best way to have the “full ownership” of a book is to “write in it”. The false “care and respect” actually keeps students away from books because books are not the claimed friends, but authority which totally constrains one’s thinking. Readers are more likely to be a watcher just looking for what is going on in the content of books without enough critical thinking. When they are driven to read difficult books, they are even less than watchers. It also forms a false sense that it was ok that after reading you still totally do not understand it. It seems that books need respect, not understanding, which is totally wrong conception with respect to learning. At the same time, failure to understand them will sometimes make readers respect them more because readers will realize how incompetent they were and how advanced books are, which enhance the vicious circle of non-writing involved tough reading

In addition, school is not doing its part in reading education. Rodriguez quickly doubted the importance of the relaxing books even though he had “a mysterious comfort” in it. He has been completely ingrained with the thought that fun is not important for reading. School fails to show students relaxing reading is also valuable or fails to help students explore the interesting side of learning. Though he was told that “a book could open doors for ”, the atmosphere was not friendly. Rodriguez describes the scene that the nun listened to why he was unwilling to read alone as following: “She studied my face as I spoke; she seemed to be watching more than listening.” The nun was not listening. She was just doing her job instead of really wanted to help him out. The lack of enthusiasm to help him out is part of the reason that Rodriguez did not listen to her. If there are better teachers who are friendly and willing to listen, the outcome would have probably been much better.

Also, Rodriguez’s teacher gave him acclaim as long as he finished reading and did not even care about the difficulty he might encountered while reading. If the teacher had cared about Rodriguez’s reading life, Rodriguez would probably have realized that he actually did not read deeply enough and there was some extra work he could have done to make himself a better reader. In other words, there are some teachers who just focus on their teaching task and are not willing to give extra guidance to a student who seeks to get to a higher level.

What is most important is why Rodriguez still believed books “were crucial for academic success” after he failed to understand tough books in a deeper sense. Academics and readings are closely associated but reading without enough understanding can still help a student gain success in academics. Therefore, there must be a problem underlying the educational system which fails to assess students’ reading from what they actually have gained and help students know why reading matters and students will not get praise for only what they have read. If a more comprehensive evaluation system had existed, Rodriguez will not have kept his utilitarian reading without enough understanding even in high school. He would have been able to understand more and Republic may have not been that hard to him.

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Rodriguez’s utilitarian reading experience is both painful and unproductive. At the same time, schools did not offer him enough help to avoid the unfunny difficult reading experience. The teachers failed to help him in an effective way or just neglected the possible help he needed. Besides that, the existent problems including the false respect to books and the flawed evaluation system contribute to the Rodriguez’s reading problem. In a nutshell, education system as a whole is responsible it. Behind his denial in his utilitarian reading experience, he is criticizing the education in school because it does not help students in reading enough and sometimes even impedes them.