Building Social Capital – a Thought Experiment

I am particularly interested in finding a way for kids to discover for themselves the joy of learning.  I think for me the joy of learning began with a book I enjoyed reading, and then finding another one like it; and then another, and another.  I wonder whether I could help a child do the same.

Suppose I work with a school to find three children interested in reading a book with me, or maybe let them read three different books.  Maybe we meet once a week to talk about the book(s), with me guiding them in a conversation, asking them questions and so on.

I could ask them what they can glean from the title of the book, ask them to state what the book is about in one or two sentences, what are the important ideas are, what they’ve learned from the characters, and so on.

Suppose I teach them what it means to be a talk dancer, and get them to practice talk dancing in our group.

After we read a couple books I ask them whether any of their friends might like to join us.  If we get say eight kids reading together, and there are two kids I think might be reasonably accomplished talk dancers, I split them up so that there is at least one talk dancer in each group.

Now instead of leading the groups directly myself, I encourage them to lead themselves knowing that each group has a talk dancer.  I linger outside the groups, listening to their conversation, encouraging them, and maybe interject a question if their conversation appears to languish.

If we can repeat this process over and over again, perhaps even inviting people outside the school to attend, such as kids from other schools, parents and grandparents, etc, what would be the resulting social capital?

With each division, the number of persons involved would roughly double.  They would be forming bonds, building trust, and discover how much can be learned and enjoyed from discussing books with other persons.  And every group that started from the root group would be connected to all the other groups; that is, at least one person from each group would know someone that could link them to all the other groups.  In just 6 such iterations, there would be over 100 persons involved.  That’s a lot of social capital.

Reading Books

There probably has never been a time when it has been so easy to read a book.

There are so many media by which a book may be “read,” and so many more contexts in which is possible to read, that I am truly amazed by how few people avail themselves of the opportunity.

According to

  • less than 15% of Americans read books on any regular basis,
  • one third of American high school graduates never read another book in their lives,
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college,
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year,
  • 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years,
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion, and over half of those are not read past page 18.


I was not a great reader when I was young.  I caught the reading bug in college.  I had a friend who was making his way through the Russian writers, and I decided to follow example.  I loved them.

Then somehow I stumbled across Mortimer Adler, and How to Read a Book.  Mortimer inspired me to read with great enthusiasm, and filled me with the belief that books would change my life.

While in many ways I have not been a good student of Mortimer, seldom has a day gone by when I have not read a book, especially once I found audio books.  Whether I’m driving my car, taking a walk, washing dishes, or folding laundry, you will also find me listening to a book.

And what has all this reading availed me?  Well I feel I can talk with almost anybody about almost anything.  I’m interested in most things, and most things have been written about.  They have helped me to understand other people, and to understand myself.  And they have enriched me with the experience of a thousand lives.