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There is a difference…

January 27, 2015

When I taught a course on the practicality of ministry at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary, the school required students to read a book on the subject.  This could be assigned at any point during the course and the verification of it being read was left to the individual instructor.  I chose to have my students write a paper, only a couple of pages in length, about their reaction to the topics the book covered.  This assignment was given along with the class synopsis and was due the first day of class. While some balked at the timing, I told them they would thank me later when their other classes buried them in homework.

In the instructions I was very clear that I wanted their reaction to the subject matter, especially topics like women in ministry, which was and still is a hot potato.  I was very clear that I had read the book, knew what it was about, and only wanted their reactions.  In spite of it all, I would receive papers outlining the content, no reaction comments, just simply telling me what the book discussed.

Now understand that these were college graduates, in a masters’ program.  In high school or even grade school students are asked to write book reports, but you would think at the college level they would learn how to write a book review.  What I discovered is many of them did not know the difference.

It seems that this is not limited to my seminary students.  If you go to any book review section of Amazon, Goodreads, or just about any site that publishes amateur reviews, this is a common occurrence. Many “reviews” are simply summaries of what a book is about. These are not reviews, they are  book reports.

If I go to Amazon to find out about a book, I will read the synopsis provided by the publisher to see what it is about.  But if I scroll down to read a review, now having an idea of the content, I want to know if this book is compelling, a good read, exciting, a page turner, a disappointment, worth my time to purchase.  Often, I only find a rehash of the blurb I have already read.

This isn’t really that hard.  The difference between a book report and review is rather simple. One is just a summary and the other an analysis.  The problem lies with our education system, it teaches one to summarize, to spew back facts, not to analyze, or to think critically.  We are taught facts and asked to recite them back but rarely to examine the implications of those facts, what do they mean for us?  There is an old joke about why did George Washington cross the Delaware? But the real joke  is we were only asked when he crossed it?

One would think that at the college level students would be doing more analyzing than summarizing, but in my experience this was not the case.  I remember being in college and there were several of us who had been in the military.  We often challenged what a teacher was saying, and could hear the gasps of other students – How dare we question a professor?  It wasn’t until I was in a doctorate program that it became common for a real discussion, give and take, to take place.

Why do people have a hard time expressing how they feel, or what is important to them, or what does this or that mean to them?  It is because we were never, or rarely, taught or allowed to express ourselves. A great example of this is in the film The Dead Poets Society, or a more recent example, but with a little less impact, The Gambler. Both of these show the frustration of a professor trying to get a reaction out of their students.

A fallout of all of this is that we often do not question what we read or hear.  We read or listen to the news and just accept what is given to us.  Questioning has almost become unpatriotic. Ironically, as I was writing this I was given an article about the day Albert Einstein died, April 18, 1955.  The story is about a LIFE magazine reporter who was able to take photos of the family at the crematorium and a few others, like the casket being loaded into the hearse.  I say ironically, because as one of my heroes, Einstein reminds me to question everything.

So next time someone asks you, “How was that book?”, I hope you will give them more than a summary of what it was about.  Give them the emotion it evoked, the impact it had on you, whether it affected the way you think.  Good or bad, what was your reaction?

Oh, and always question what you read, what you hear, what you are told. How else are we going to learn? How else are we going to expand our viewpoints? How else are going to be able to get along with each other?

Happy reading!



2 Comments leave one →
  1. David Hall permalink
    January 30, 2015 9:24 am

    Did you grade them on their non-response or lack of understanding of the instructions? Educational institutions are notorious for teaching us to “over-think”. Most people need to tune into their awareness of what they are “feeling” from all sources of input via all of our senses. All of our antenna, as it were. Of course, in the case of reading a book, this is done through sight. But then in the case you write about here, one can over think and go down a path that is egoish (new word enter in dictionary) or “over thinking”. Another way to say this is to experience, not think, about what you “feel”, when you witness, say a car crash right in front of you on the road. How does that feel? You really don’t have time to “think”. Or, what do you “feel” if you are reading about a car crash right in front of you on the road. Did the author of the written description of the scene come close to making you feel the same as if you saw it in real life? The global we would be better off if we stop over-thinking, including worry about what others over-think about us.

  2. Betty permalink
    February 8, 2015 3:07 pm

    When I read a book, I want it to make me think. If it doesn’t I have just wasted time turning pages. I read to not only escape but to learn something. If the book does both, it is a hit for me.

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