Reading Well: An Invitation to Empathy

Guest Blogger ~ Michael Hornbaker, Upper School Teacher

At the heart of reading well is empathy: the ability and willingness to enter into the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of another person.  Reading is not simply passive comprehension of information, but is an active conversation with another voice.  In a selection recently read by our 10th grade Literature students, Mortimer Adler reminds us that “completely passive reading is impossible.” Reading is the process by which we interpret texts, making decisions about meaning and value.  In some sense, reading is an appropriate metaphor for our shared task of understanding ourselves and our world.  We “read” circumstances, experiences, and even one another.  In this sense, we never stop reading.  At Logos Academy, we realize that reading is not only the recognition of words and computation of symbols.  In this context, reading is not simply an academic exercise but an invitation to grow and develop as a person through encountering other people, places, and ideas, whether historical or fictional.  Our students are invited not only to use texts to prepare for quizzes and tests, but to grow in holistic ways as they practice reading together in the Vibrant Learning Communities of our classrooms.  Reading well requires that we practice discipline, patience, charity, openness, and critical thinking.      

In our fast-paced and technological society, we are conditioned to process information quickly and efficiently. Reading well requires that we intentionally slow down: it requires that we go deeper and not faster.  In the classroom, this means that we take time.  We take time to re-read, define terms, explore concepts, and discuss ideas.  Reading well requires that you listen first and speak second.  When you visit our classrooms, you will find that reading is not only attached to comprehension worksheets, but is the starting point for class conversation and dialogue.  During discussions Logos students are evaluated on how often and accurately they refer to the text as they learn to first listen closely to the voice of the author.   

One of the ways that we intentionally slow down and provide space for extended reflection in Bible class is by viewing artwork.  Biblical scenes and characters have been the subject of painted masterpieces for centuries.  While reading through the final chapters of the gospel of Luke, students view different paintings of the crucifixion.  Each painting offers another perspective, another interpretation of the text we read.  In their own way, each painting also invites a response from the viewer.  Messina’s Christ Crucified depicts Christ raised on an elongated cross, positioned above the horizon.  In comparing the reading and viewing experience, one of our 7th grade students, Daniel James, wrote “It really is unsettling to see Jesus…The account tells you what happened and the painting shows how it happened.”  Tissot, What Our Lord Saw From the CrossJames Tissot’s What Our Lord Saw from the Cross invites students to change their perspective entirely.  Instead of seeing Jesus on the cross, centered in the foreground, viewers are turned around and lifted onto the cross and given Jesus’ view.  After reflecting on Tissot’s work, Daniel wrote “Now that I have seen this painting, I’ve realized how much Jesus was hurt… Now, I think of Jesus as one who has suffered inside and out.”  

As a teacher, it is encouraging to see the way that interacting with artwork makes space for students to return to the Biblical text with fresh eyes.  It is also a helpful and humbling reminder that as we study the New Testament together we are joining a centuries-long reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Over time, all of these encounters shape a disposition that is empathetic. This is the heart of what we hope for our students, that they will enter deeply and thoughtfully into the lives of their communities, ready to “read” their world.  

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