Between the Lines: The Agony and Ecstasy of Seminal Readings


‘One thing I like about Seminal Readings is how the conversations never end. Powerful and livid discussions within the classroom often continue outside, with people talking about it and challenging themselves to think deeper and consider other beliefs.’ 

Year 1 Student and ALA blogger Temilolu Olamide Awofeso chatted to fellow students to get a varied   perspective on one of ALA’s most enriching curriculum activities.

Seminal Readings brings a bag of mixed feelings for ALA Students. Having to read heavy texts causes many sighs of exasperation or frustration. But when it comes to an end, everyone comes out of it with some fire lit.

Seminal Readings is a termly program that deviates from the curriculum. We are given extracts from influential books to explore, with themed topics that connect the different readings.

This term, the Year One theme was  “Aligning To Causes”, with extracts from Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut and the The Definition of Black Consciousness by Steve Biko. The process was a bit different for Year Twos, who had no advance texts to read, but were shown screenings of This is Water  by David Foster Wallace, The Doubt Essential to Faith by Leslie Hazleton and 1999 sci-fi thriller The Matrixdirected  by Lana and Andy Wachowski.

For me, this year’s Seminal Readings was truly engaging and insightful. It pushed me to explore the works of various authors I would never read, and tackle new ideas with friends and Advisory families. Being selective of the canon of books I choose to read – unless reading for an exam, I can say that the Seminal Readings experience has truly been an amazing journey in shaping my mindset and establishing a strong sense of self.

I asked a few Year 1s and 2s whether they felt the same; what they found most challenging or inspiring about the Seminal Readings process, whether they were motivated to continue reading the book further – and, for Year 2s, how watching movies compared to reading texts.

One thing we all agreed on: there’s something for everyone in Seminal Readings…

‘Staying up to finish an entire text can be boring,
but talking about it in class is where the real fire is.’ 

Sandra Chipeta (Year 2, Botswana)

The moment that Seminal Readings meant something to me was the day Mr Peter told me the purpose of Seminal Readings. He explained how the books and texts we would be reading in university would be rigorous and time-consuming, which is similar to the process we run here in ALA. I started seeing Seminal Readings more than a time to learn ideas, but to help me grow as a person through the lessons. It’s all about growth.

Being a slow reader (extremely slow), it can be quite difficult to read all the content on time to get the gist of it. But I’m motivated me to keep reading if the readings are related to me. I find it easier to read on and understand how the reading can add to my life and understanding. Summaries really help me out, especially in reading long texts and the actual book. Highlighting also helps – note everything down, from key phrases to beautiful words – as does discussing with others and engaging with the text.

When it comes to movies, I believe that everything is explicit and you can clearly see the directors’ idea transformed into a visual form for you. I found it easier than reading as it was engaging and it did not take a lot of time to watch.

Koffi-Emmanuel Sadzi (Year 1, Togo)

Seminal Readings is a period where I engage in conversations across different issues in the world with friends, while challenging my personality and perspectives on the content of the texts we read. From the Allegory of The Cave to Biko’s Black Consciousness, I have been able to understand new perspectives from my friends and new ideas from our discussions as a family.

As a Francophone, it can be quite difficult to chew on the texts as the words are a bit heavy and I find myself referencing the dictionary more than I spend reading the text. I prefer reading academically (not for fun) but I don’t read a lot. I can say though that Seminal Readings give me motivation to read texts I like, or to watch a short YouTube Summary about them and discuss with friends about the text to understand what they thought of the book. I enjoy discussions about the texts more than the text itself. But my classmates can sometimes deviate from the discussion to other unrelated things…

Lobna Jbeniani (Year 1, Tunisia)

I think Seminal Readings are a great way to escape from the academic environment and delve into texts and excerpts that have touched humanity on a bigger scale. I enjoy how Seminal Readings encourages a more analytical level of thought outside the classroom, which gives our discussions more dynamic as we challenge each other’s thoughts and ideas.

One thing that I have observed in ALA is that anything that offends is looked down upon or beyond freedom of speech. I believe that as aspiring young leaders, we need to be able to offer offending ideas and challenge them deeply, while respecting various points of view from an intellectual approach. I think it is important for us to realize that freedom of speech lies at the core of all things.

Daniel Deng (Year 2, Sudan)

For me, Seminal Readings is the best time to pause from the academic intensity of the ALA environment. It touches on the aspects of building your skills, your self and knowledge of the world through engagements with other people.

I generally do not find Seminal Readings challenging, rather intriguing and engaging. It elongates my ability to read more books and to read widely. For example, I was not interested in Plato and his philosophy, until we tackled the Allegory Of The Cave in First Year. I began to appreciate how the author illustrated such a simple story about people in the cave. Once we finished the text, I was motivated to explore the concept of the book and its deeper meanings.

I remember how fun Seminal Readings was in my first year as we got introduced. The only thing that made it less riveting was conducting it during the end of terms or the middle of the term, as we had no energy to engage with the texts due to the mental suppression we faced during this period. The difference between Frist and Second year, I think, comes through in the themes. In first year, we were introduced to the idea of African Leadership and what our role is within this context. Second year was more practical, with Seminal Readings giving us more value on going on to achieve the things we wish to achieve. 

Tanatsei Gambura (Year 1, Zimbabwe)

Seminal Readings gives me a huge breather from the Diploma and CIE Subjects. It allows me think more about what I get out of the ALA experience and the diverse range of thoughts around me, which allows me to form myself and a strong opinion around me. Personally, I find reading literature infused with scientific concepts perplexing. It can be inspiring in the sense that we think of these concepts as forms of phenomena outside the A-Level biology textbook.

I have gone above and beyond certain books we have done, due to my keen interest in the writer and the inspiration of the text itself. This can change for other students, as some of the texts that make me inspired can put others to sleep.

Mark Edem (Year 2, Lesotho & Nigeria)

Seminal Readings is a break from ALA’s rigorous programme to make time for engagement in provoking and thoughtful conversations. Most challenging, I think, is the idea of sharing your perspectives. In First term, it can be a bit intimidating to share your thoughts on a specific text.

I believe that the longer you go through the process, the more comfortable you become speaking about what you perceive. First time around, you’re not sure about how your ideas or beliefs will offend others. The more you do, the stronger you develop a respectful way of expressing yourself.

One thing I like about Seminal Readings is how the conversations never end. Powerful and livid discussions within the classroom often continue outside, with people talking about it and challenging themselves to think deeper and consider other beliefs.

I’m always encouraged to read the entire novel to read where the excerpt came from. This is mostly due to the discussions, as people have different opinions and viewpoints. The main goal is to find the author’s perspective, which can be done through going through the entire text.

It’s a cliché that the movie of the book that you read does not carry as much breadth or depth in the movie than the book. The Matrix, specifically was a lot easier to understand through visual representation.

‘In first year, we were introduced to the idea of African Leadership and what our role is within this context. Second Year was more practical, with Seminal Readings giving us more value on going on to achieve the things we wish to achieve.’

Chimfeka Awoke Ogbo (Year 2, Nigeria)

Seminal Readings is a way to expand your knowledge base and thought. It encourages self-growth and internalized introspection.Personally, I like Seminal Readings a lot more now than in First Year. I think recording information in such a shortened time is a bit challenging. I was one of those people who went through all the texts, sleep-deprived yet driven by the creativity of literature and its beauty.

The topic of the text can really motivate you; the other extracts and texts we have read are topics I have researched deeply on, read on, watched on, and listened on. On the other hand, the selection of the movies was inspiring to exploring media as a means of communication. I really enjoyed the experience of watching The Matrix as I was able to experience what the story was about, making it more personal as I was able to tap into the feelings of the characters and the storyline itself.

steve biko