Friday, September 4, 2009

Sir, why can't you find something else to read besides El Grafico?

I read an interesting article this morning in the New York Times about how New York City subway commuters like to read during their commutes. People are reading all kinds of things -- magazines, books, newspapers, scripts, the Talmud, and shopping catalogs -- and this made my teacher-self all warm and fuzzy inside. Nick said that when he lived in New York, he enjoyed the commute because he could read the paper or do crossword puzzles. It was a calming, zen-like experience for him.

Well, I don't know what it is, but I find very few people reading anything on the trains and buses here. People sit. Some talk if they're with family or friends, but most people just sit. Or stand. A few are reading the tabloid-style, nasty, bloody El Grafico. I did notice one guy this week reading a book, and I remembered and noticed because I thought that was unusual behavior. And it's even more unusual to me after reading the article. Why aren't more people reading? Commutes are LONG, and one could really get a lot of reading in. This intrigues me as a teacher who sings the praises of reading everyday in the classroom.

In the US, I expected my students to read every night, to always have reading material with them at their desk, and to read whenever they're done with their work. We encourage parents to read to their children at night, to have lots of books at home, and to use the library. We value a literate culture. However, from my experience here in schools, I don't see teachers praising literacy like we do in the US. Kids aren't engaging in self-selected reading during the school day, teachers aren't spending time reading books aloud, and I don't know anyone who uses the public libraries (in Mexico City, many parks have library branches).

Even I don't read on the train or the bus -- I download NPR podcasts to my iPod. For one, the subway and buses would give me vertigo if I looked down. There is a lot of sudden braking and screeching halts, and you have to be a "defensive passenger", constantly adjusting how tightly you squeeze the railings. And secondly, there's a lot to see out the windows. The people watching is world-class, and the food...oh, the food!

In large part, Mexicans aren't reading is because it's expensive. One of the things that astounded me when we moved here was how expensive it was to buy books. If you're making less than $10 per day, why would you spend your entire day's salary buying a book? Actually, a non-pirated book will set you back more than $10. A hardback copy of a quality children's book is usually over $30. Why is that??

If books were cheaper, if student's read more in school, if parents read to their kids at home, imagine how different things might be...


  1. Hi Alice,

    One thing we really miss living here in Chapala is the library. My son LOVES to read and we used to spend hours at the library in Toronto. And you're right, the books here are outrageously expensive. I try to buy books for our boys every time we go to Toronto but even that gets expensive too.

  2. Do your kids go to a local school in Chapala? How are the teachers with reading aloud and self-selected reading?

  3. I've only been in Merida - actually, I'm still in process, moving there - but already I've found 2 used bookstores plus a stall of used books at the big mercado downtown. Even in the States, I buy my books used. If you can find used books, that should help with the expense...