The middle of March is unofficially, for many students, the start of the countdown season leading to the end of the academic year. In addition to the annual spring basketball collegiate competition of the “March Madness,” and spring break, there are the last round of tests for hopeful undergraduates. These various assessments, including the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement, and others, are the culmination of many years of preparation and study.
One of the areas that students are tested on is in the area of reading and reading comprehension, as well as critical thinking and composition. Despite the claims of many pundits and others commenting about the impending irrelevance of anything not related or applicable to modern technology, the written word is not dead. Numbers and technical drawings do have an important place in everyday life, but not at the expense of everything else.
Much can be learned anew about the human condition and experience from works in the area of literature and the humanities, some of it surprisingly familiar at times. A few weeks ago, at the Academy Awards ceremony, the Best Picture of the Year honor went to to the film Argo. This was based in part on the book The Master of Disguise, by Tony Mendez. Military operations and intricate strategic planning are nothing new in the field of literature and historical narrative. Interested readers, young and old, may want to investigate History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides.
For younger audiences, the adventures of action heroes have great appeal, evidenced by the films of the recent Batman series, as well as those recounting the feats and exploits of Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and the rest of the Avengers team. These characters are all dedicated to protecting the weak and innocent, as well as standing up against evil and injustice. Literature has many examples of similar fictional heroes preceding them, such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baronness Emmuska Orcszy, and Zorro, by Johnston McCulley.
Reading, critical thinking, and composition writing are skills that have to be practiced and developed constantly over time, much like athletes train and condition their muscles and bodies for intense competition. It is not always fun or easy, and can be quite difficult at times. However, the end result in both cases is that an ability to perform difficult and challenging tasks in the face of challenging conditions is developed. For the student, what is strengthened is the mind, and the ability to comprehend and convey concepts and ideas in the written word.
It is an ongoing argument about the merits of engineering and the sciences versus the the arts and humanities, one that is unlikely to be settled here in this essay. There is little disagreement that these are areas that many standardized tests examine in assessing the readiness, and well-roundedness, of a person to progress to the next level of education. One area of agreement is that regardless of the field of study or interest, it is necessary to be able to read and comprehend the material presented, in whatever form this is done, and to discuss and communicate these findings in the written form and word.
For the foreseeable future, this attention to being able to read and write at an advanced level is what college admissions administrators and counselors will be using to evaluate students beginning their formal academic careers, as well as their professors during the course of their undergraduate and later studies. It all begins when a child is young, to develop these reading and writing skills early on, to build on additional learning later on throughout life, and not just for any one set of examination or placement tests.