Moreover, when we gain an initial understanding of the primary ideas, we can begin to think within the system as a whole.The sooner we begin to think within a system, the sooner the system becomes meaningful to us.Skilled readers do not read blindly, but purposely. Their purpose, together with the nature of what they are reading, determines how they read.
Considering the Author’s Purpose In addition to being clear about our own purpose in reading, we must also be clear about the author’s purpose in writing. For example, if you read a historical novel to learn history, you would do well to read further in history books and primary sources before you conclude that what you read in the historical novel was accurate.
Where fact and imagination are blended to achieve a novelist’s purpose, fact and imagination must be separated to achieve the reader’s pursuit of historical fact.
Accurately translating words into intended meanings is an analytic, evaluative, and creative set of acts.
Unfortunately, few people are skilled at translation.
We may simply enjoy the ideas that the text stimulates in us.
This is fine as long as we know that we do not deeply understand the text.Learning to think within one system of knowledge helps us learn to think within other systems.For example, if in studying botany, we learn that all plants have cells, we should connect this idea to the fact that all animals have cells (which we learned in studying biology).Few are able to accurately mirror the meaning the author intended. They unintentionally distort or violate the original meaning of authors they read.As Horace Mann put it in 1838:"I have devoted especial pains to learn, with some degree of numerical accuracy, how far the reading, in our schools, is an exercise of the mind in thinking and feeling and how far it is a barren action of the organs of speech upon the atmosphere.All knowledge exists in “systems” of meanings, with interrelated primary ideas, secondary ideas, and peripheral ideas.Imagine a series of circles beginning with a small core circle of primary ideas, surrounded by concentric circles of secondary ideas, moving outward to an outer circle of peripheral ideas.Thus, when we understand core historical ideas, we can begin to think historically.When we understand core scientific ideas, we can begin to think scientifically.Of course, reading has a nearly universal purpose: to figure out what an author has to say on a given subject. The author has previously translated ideas and experiences into words.We must take those same words and re-translate them into the author’s original meaning using our own ideas and experiences as aids.