Madison County Opinion...

APRIL 14, 2004


Column
By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
April 14, 2004

Frankly Speaking

Love of reading lasts a lifetime
A proposal in Georgia to require students to read 25 books a year is drawing some criticism for being “too much.”
Are these people serious? As a 10-year-old fourth grader I regularly read 25 books each month! Oh, I forgot that we didn’t have TV or video games, or the internet at that time. For those of us with a high level of curiosity, the school library was our primary source of information.
Books still hold many advantages for those seeking knowledge. For every video you find on any given subject, there are a hundred books, each with a slightly different approach. With books you don’t have to wait for the program you want to see to be scheduled on the Discover Channel. You simply pick up one of the many books on your subject, find a comfortable chair with a good light, and begin to read. If you have to stop for lunch, or to go to class, or to work, you put a book marker in your spot and return to it later.
The supply of books never ends. There are millions of them. We have books on history, faith, science, and the lives of important or famous people. We have books of poetry, humor, advice, instruction and self improvement. Books filled with romance, heroism, fantasy and mystery are easily available.
Yes, I realize that TV and videos can deliver many of the above things. But they have to be edited to fit the format of the media. Often, important details are left out due to time restraints.
For example, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” a book about a murder in Savannah was a major hit. So was the movie based on the book.
There were three different trials described in the book before the alleged killer was finally found innocent. In the movie, the three trials were reduced to one.
Or consider the Harry Potter series. The books contain numerous hints and innuendos that cannot be conveyed by the films. The movies give you an idea about Harry’s life. The books allow you to live his life with him.
Then there are those gems that simply do not lend themselves to film. Things like “The Prayer of Jabez” by Bruce Wilkinson, or “The Collected Widsom of Heraclitus,” or “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman. You will never find a film of “Southern by the Grace of God” by Michael Andrew Grissom.
Now back to the idea of having students read 25 books each year.
That is one book every two weeks with two weeks off. Thirty minutes less of TV watching a day would easily provide time to read that much.
The schools would likely prepare a recommended reading list for each grade level, but students should not be limited to the list. There are simply too many great books to limit a reader’s choice.
Should our students be expected to read at least 25 books a year? That would make a good start. Our formal education only lasts a few years.
Reading will last a lifetime.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is frankgillispie@charter.net.

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Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
April 14, 2004

In the Meantime

What I mean by ‘liberal’
Liberal — “a.) Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. b.) Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.”
— The American Heritage Dictionary
of The English Language

The ultimate dirty word in many circles is "liberal." Because, for many, the word has come to represent the opposite of its definition. "Open-mindedness" in our society has become "closed mindedness," with many seeing "liberals" as extremely disrespectful to anything that is not "politically correct" and hateful toward anything that doesn't fit their world view.
For many, particularly in the South, liberals have come to represent the "culture snobs" of society, a group of self-congratulatory, intolerant folks who are out of touch with real people.
Well, I strive to be liberal-minded. And no, I don't want to be a part of any snooty group.
I believe liberal-minded thinking is far from a shameful thing, as it has become to so many in this culture. To me, to think liberally is simply to adopt a humble attitude. It means that you recognize that you need to be willing to listen to others and that such a commitment is in itself a healthy political ideology — a very hard one to keep given our passions and our desire to pummel those with whom we disagree with the uppercut punch of our own truth, which we often mistake as "the truth."
I heard a good quote recently attributed to the late Sammy Haggard, for whom the county's recreation park is named. I don't have his quote verbatim, but essentially he said that everyone on this earth knows something that you don't know but need to know.
I like that a lot. That's a pearl of wisdom I would like to keep, despite all the difficulties such a belief actually presents.
To me, such a belief is at the heart of liberal-minded thinking. It is in the spirit of Matthew 25:40. That passage is both beautiful and frightening, an indictment and a charge on all humanity to recognize that the divine is within even the least expected living things, and that we should strive to love and care for "even the least of these" among us. Is this incumbent upon humanity, regardless of our different beliefs?
I hear "liberal" in our society every day thrown around like a cuss word. And I think that the definitions society places on the word are so contrary to the way I think about the term.
Honestly, I believe that the "liberal-conservative" split that poisons our country comes when we give up our individual outlook and take hold of a collective power. We want teams, right and wrong, good and bad. And unfortunately, people often are both right and wrong, good and bad. Issues can have the same complexities.
But we don't want to deal with those complexities or with the people who present them. So we just jump in with "you bleeding-heart liberal" or "you narrow-minded conservative," as if that satisfies any argument, as if that actually defines the stranger who has so much more to their life than we can see in one heated debate. What our definition does is satisfy our anger with a stamp. In doing so, we often fail to recognize the ugly stamp we place on ourselves.
So stamp me a "liberal" and sneer if you want.
It's a tidy definition, the modern slur. But I feel that the word "liberal" used as a combative instrument really says little about the individual it's intended to slander and more about the person mouthing it.
Because I believe a real liberal is someone who seeks the discipline and the strength to listen, and to care for others, knowing that they don't really understand very much about the strangers around them and that they will be enriched if they are open to learning about them.
I believe that the real "liberal" seeks to honor the true definition of the word, to be "liberal minded," meaning to see beyond their own beliefs and to not be limited "to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas."
I believe this culture has truly misrepresented the definition of "liberal" found in that thick, old dictionary on my desk.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.


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