Why is this not required reading in high school?
If this thought, came to mind once it came to mind a thousand times when reading How to Read A Book by Alder and Van Doren. The authors do a remarkable job breaking down the four levels of reading which they deem as Elementary, Inspectional, Analytical, and Syntopical while also providing techniques for success for each level.
The big takeaway from the reading of Adler and Van Doren is the primary charge that as a reader the more active one is in their interaction with the book, the deeper the level of learning one achieves. Being active as a reader starts by asking the right questions. The four main questions one must ask are 1. What is the book about as a whole? 2. What is being said in detail, and how? 3. Is the book true, in whole or part? 4. What of it? By asking the right question(s) as one reads, the author and the reader engage in communicable dialogue. It makes sense then the highest level of reading, Syntopical, deals with reading two or more books on the same subject matter and understanding where they agree or disagree. Understanding the author is as important as understanding what one is reading, particularly if the reader is seeking to critique the book based on the communication of knowledge presented and then must show where the author is uninformed, misinformed, illogical and where the author’s analysis or account is incomplete.
While the book is about “how to read” it also provides insights into communication which translates well into leadership skills. In Chapter nine the authors are dealing with the topic of determining the author’s message and how to determine the proposition(s). Propositions are defined in the book as, “the answers to questions, they are declarations of knowledge or opinion. Finding the propositions is excellent but understanding them is where transformation takes place. Understanding in this case meaning, “Ideally, you should be able to say the same thing in totally different words. The idea can, of course, be approximated in varying degrees. But if you cannot get away at all from the author’s words, it shows that only words have passed from him to you, not thought or knowledge”. From the leadership perspective, this applies in at least two ways, the first being a framework for the one who is doing the “leading” in that they should be providing space for one to find the answers (propositions) and not always give out an answer. The second is the one receiving training or leadership can be assessed in growth by their ability to state the answer “in their own words”. Many times leaders and the one being led are looking for reproductions or clones or the leader but at best that only produces verbalism. Adler and Doren write on verbalism saying,
“The vice of “verbalism” can be defined as the bad habit of using words without regard for the thoughts they should convey and without awareness of the experiences to which they should refer. It is playing with words. As the two tests we have suggested indicate, “verbalism” is the besetting sin of those who fail to read analytically. Such readers never get beyond the words. They possess what they read as a verbal memory that they can recite emptily”.
In leadership, we do not need to produce the next leaders as people who can only say what we have said but can understand the propositions through their own experiences and apply them in their way without misinterpreting the meaning. That involves active communication with all parties involved.
 Jerome Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 47.
 Ibid., 305.
 Ibid., 162.
 Ibid., 116.
 Ibid., 124.
 Ibid., 126.