Reading is the key to being part of our world

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Perhaps you may look at the title of this column and think that I have become the undisputed “master of the obvious” with its platitudinous pronouncement.

“Of course, Ogden, everyone knows that!” might well be your immediate response.

But last week I had the privilege of attending a ceremony at Westside Elementary School which acknowledged and honored the excellent progress students there have made in reading development.

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You will be pleased to know that, once again, Demopolis schools are either at or near the top nationally!

Again, that is “nationally”-not just regionally, not just statewide, but nationwide!

Not only is this a tribute to the entire staff at Westside Elementary, as well as to our school administration top-down, but it is a tribute to the attitude and enlightened approach to education which exists in Demopolis.

And so, all of us need to congratulate Westside, as well as Dr. Wesley Hill’s entire administrative team, for a job well done!

Of course, this delightful event spurred another thought, given the torments of my labyrinthine mind, which has to do with just why reading is so very important not only in our individual cognitive development, but in the development of our entire being.

Part of what makes us different from the other creatures on God’s Earth is our ability to communicate in many forms.

The obvious verbal vehicle has been well established and expanded exponentially, from simple prose to deep literature to simple poems to song, no matter how well we like or don’t the


The point is this:

in our development we have devised a variety of means to communicate that which we think, reflect on, feel, see, and predict.

Some cultures have depended solely on verbal vehicles and others have developed symbol systems, such as alphabets and cuneiforms to express the thoughts or actions being reported.

And those cultures which have developed the highest forms of symbol systems, i.e., mathematical formulas, and the like, seem to have contributed significantly more to the development of the human condition than others.

There is no implication here of cultural superiority, but rather an acknowledgement of the great significance of reading when it comes to our ability to understand the world around us.

We occupy a world in which we are both a part and a protagonist.

We participate and simultaneously we are spectators.

Regardless of what we may intend to do in the world we survive on a daily basis the events which happen without our knowledge or without our permission.

We have no control over the earth’s rotations, hence we do not control sunrises or sunsets.


The only control we have over them is how we use them, how we interpret them, and the meaning to which we ascribe them, be it aesthetic appreciation or spiritual inspiration.

It is our innate desire to communicate with others the “meaning” of that world out there which precipitates a need for a system of symbols to deliver a “meaning” without the purveyor of that meaning being physically present.

At services this past Easter, we read passages from the Bible which communicate the “meaning” of its observance and celebration.

And those passages were read to or with us!

This is the significance of reading – to be able to communicate our ideas and observations without actually having to be physically present to capture and advance an impact of those ideas.

It is no coincidence that the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, came to the conclusion that it is we who determine the organization of the world around us, and part of that organization is being able to present it in a comprehendible and arguably a clear vision of what it is, what it does, and our place in it.

At very early stages, we teach our youngsters that reading is important and fun because it can introduce us to aspects and elements of the world which exist, but which we may never be able to personally experience.

In a phrase, it is those symbols as words, which help us participate in the world around us without the necessity of our being there in person.

Didn’t Margaret Mitchell paint a portrait of a strong-willed woman inundated by events of the world around her and her ability to cope with them?

Didn’t Albert Einstein give us a simple 5-symbol formula which captured the essence of how our universe works mechanically?

And didn’t Robert Frost give us picture of decision-making as he saw “two roads diverged in a yellow wood”?

This, then, is the essence of reading and its great impact on human cognitive development.

When we read, we are allowed to participate in all parts of the world around us even if we cannot be there physically.

When we read we can see the development of ideas which have helped us get along in a world out there over which we have little control, except our reaction to it.

And when we can read, we can see the pictures painted by the words of those who wrote them – wrote them for us to see our world.

So, please join me in congratulating Westside Elementary School and its landmark achievement in reading.

Because of those good, good educators our children will be able to see the world in all its splendor and challenge for the rest of their lives.

-Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern’s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy.

He can be reached at