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Three Prescriptions for Thinking More Clearly about Teaching, Part 2: Consume More Costly Things

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Last time, I explained that thinking clearly is a huge promoter of our own flourishing. And since flourishing teachers tend to do better work and enjoy their lives more than frustrated teachers do, this is no small matter. It's at the root of our mission to make teaching better. So the first step is to make room for us to practice clearer thinking, and that starts with consuming fewer urgent things.

This gives us space to practice our next prescription: Consuming excellent, or what I'll call costly, things.

Consider three kinds of things I made last year, all of which you can consume at your pleasure:

  1. A tweet
  2. A blog post
  3. A book

In terms of time and effort spent, which cost me the most to make?

The book. It cost me five years of my life. So, if you're going to read any of my things, and you want the fastest benefits to your thinking, I'd recommend the book first — here's the book — because it was costly.

But why does the costliness of a thing matter? Isn't all reading good reading?

I don't think so, no.

The most important reason that costly reading produces better fruit in our thinking is because of how much it costs the reader. First, books demand more time. While a tweet takes you a second to read and a blog post about five minutes, even an inspectional reading of a book will cost you an hour. If you find that a book has sufficient quality and value upon inspecting it, then a thorough analytical read of the book is likely to take a dozen hours. The differences in the costs on your time are exponential.

Some of my favorite blog posts are the ones I've written on reading. Here they are:

Those are gold — at least they have been to me!

Second, books demand more thought. You can get the gist of my tweet while being distracted; you can get the gist of my blog post pretty easily, too. But to get the gist of my book, you'll need to engage with the introduction and conclusion at least. And then each chapter calls you to sustained engagement with a number of arguments and strategies. And then to take the book and make it your own — to literally teleport me inside your brain — you've got to write in the margins, talk about it with a friend, re-read sections that you disagree with or didn't grasp fully on your first read-through, and (most importantly) actually try out the strategies I suggest in your classroom multiple times.

This latter level of engagement is so intense that I've advocated in the past for reading far fewer professional books in a year — at one point, I even limited myself to one. (For a wonderful, as-it's-happening look at a reading project like this, see George Evans' blog, where he's generously made his one book These 6 Things.)

And third, the book costs money. Granted, it's less than it costs for me to take my wife on a movie-dinner date, but it's enough to where you're probably more likely to read it than you are one of those free pdf download things.

A few quick points to close:

  • Costly things aren't just books. Journal articles, research studies, mega-blog-posts — they count too.
  • Costly things can be blogs. For a number of years I read Seth Godin's blog every day, plus a few of his books. The result is that I now have a good sense of how Seth thinks. He's a mentor in my head. I've done similar reading projects of a few other blogs that are exceptional in their quality. My goals in these cases are always to 1) learn as much as I can, and 2) learn how the author thinks. This is a way that my own blog can be read.
  • Not everything needs to be read the same. Your purpose drives the way you read. Most books that I read, I don't finish in the traditional sense of reading every single word. That's not just fine — it's wise. We've only got so much life left, which means we can read only so many books. (Read those “How to Read” posts I linked to earlier for more.)
  • Not everything needs to be about teaching — in fact, it shouldn't be. Many of my best insights on teaching have come from books or articles on parenting, social psychology, Christian apologetics, and the history of science. When you've found a thread that's helping you answer one of your big, burning questions, here's the thing to do: keep pulling.

So, I'd love to hear: What's the next costly thing you're going to read?

2 Responses to Three Prescriptions for Thinking More Clearly about Teaching, Part 2: Consume More Costly Things

  1. Ica Rewitz January 3, 2019 at 4:02 pm #

    I think it’s going to be What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen, by Kate Fagan. I’m interested in learning more about the mental health struggles our students face and if there are ways for teachers to help with those.

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