On Reading

July 11th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

By now, news about the decline in literary reading in the United States has trickled through the media (though, we’ve noticed, it hasn’t received the sort of prominence we feel this should). Reading at Risk, the report prepared by the National Endowment for the Arts, contained a lot of disturbing data, not the least of which was a correlation between the decline in reading and a decline in commitment to social service.

The news and report had us thinking a lot about reading (even during those moments when we were, theoretically, engaged in that particular activity). We took a trip to our local bookstore, where we were thrilled to see, lots of happy kids and their parents were engaged in the reading process (we just happened to be purchasing a copy of Where the Wild Things Are because we believe every child should own that book). But an upscale bookstore in Pasadena is only one view.

We also spoke with our mother, a librarian at an elementary school. Due to shrinking budgets and the woefully misnamed “No Child Left Behind” law, her library has no funds for new books this year. Which is especially rough because her school services one of the poorest areas in her town — these kids aren’t being exposed to books at home. For most of us, our love affair with books starts in childhood, and a well-stocked library, at least for us, was a major component of our early life (that and abusing the younger siblings — one must remove the nose from the book sometimes).

When we should be doing everything we can to promote and encourage reading — a literate population is the only way this nation will be able to compete in this world — it is being devalued due to other educational priorities. It’s not just books being affected; even physical education is being left by the wayside as money disappears. It’s going to take a dramatic shift in our nation’s mindset before these statistics turn around; however, because we don’t want to wait for that shift, we would like to remind you there is a way you can help.

Yes, you can become a literacy tutor. It requires (if we recall correctly) approximately twelve hours of training and several hours a week. There are probably a wide variety of programs in your area; contact your local library to see how you can help. We’ve also included a link to ProLiteracy; you can get information on local programs via their website.

So why tutor? We think the answer is obvious, but, what the heck, we’ll sell it a little, at least for adult readers. Many people make it through the educational system without being able to read or read well, and they reach a point in their lives where they realize they need help. Sometimes, they need to learn to read job applications or understand other basic forms we encounter in our daily lives; sometimes, they want to read to help their own kids with homework; sometimes, they really want to read. Period.

One of the hardest things for our training class was the process of teaching people to read. The things that came almost intuitively to us when we first encountered letters and words apparently don’t come easily to everyone. Our entire class was dumbfounded — as it turns out, all of us were early and voracious readers. In working with actual students, we discovered that this reading thing really is very difficult for many people. It’s not a lack of intelligence or desire — it’s just damn hard. People who take the courageous (and it requires much courage to admit you need help) step of approaching a literacy program are very committed to learning to read — and if it’s something you do particularly well and love, sharing your enthusiasm is very important.

It is our belief that children of readers often become readers themselves (we say often because we somehow ended up with a smart brother who doesn’t, uh, read). If you were affected by the NEA report, we ask that you take a small step to reverse this trend.

File Under: Square Pegs

1 response so far ↓

  • emily. // Jul 11, 2004 at 9:32 pm

    Followed the link from Foreword and felt compelled to post . . .

    I went to a poor elementary school and the only reason that our library had a good selection was that library funding was tied to how many kids got federal free lunch.

    I loved books and my mom actually tried often to get me to stop reading and do something else. Many of my classmates, however, still can’t read. Yes, *can’t* (or at least not very well, and my measure is when they read aloud) and I’m in college. It breaks my heart to know that my peers largely view reading as a chore, rather than something fun and exciting.