Reading Is Fundamental

This is the favorite saying of one of my employees, a cashier who is routinely bombarded by customers who don’t read signs.  They can’t find their way to other levels of the parking garage (“There are no spaces!”) or they are completely mystified by the fact that it costs money to park (“I thought it was free!”)  Like, where did you get that idea?

Increasingly, I wonder if it’s not that they don’t read, but that they can’t read.  Reading is not a valued skill anymore.  People don’t do it for pleasure.

Reading Is Fundamental http://www.rif.org/ is a children’s literacy organization.

In the ’80’s, I volunteered briefly for an organization called Each One Teach One, which is an adult literacy organization. My student was a guy about 20 years old who had just graduated from high school without being able to read. He’d been placed in Special Ed classes, even though he was not in the least mentally challenged.  He was smart, but had not ever been taught well, given enough attention, or been motivated to learn and see the pleasures of reading.

I doubt he ever did see the pleasures, but once he was “graduated” (essentially, kicked out) of high school, it suddenly dawned on him how reading was a good idea.  He got a job (actually, thanks to his placement in Special Ed) with Coca-Cola.  He was an assistant on a Coca-Cola delivery truck (in other words, he was muscle) and he realized that he could never progress or be a driver himself without being able to read.  His driver was wonderful, and taught him numbers, so he could understand how many cases times X price meant how much they owed.  He just couldn’t read words, so he didn’t know whether he should deliver cases of Coke products to Walgreen’s or to Kroger.

The goal of that organization was to bring people to a 7th grade reading level, which they said was necessary to be able to read the average newspaper (how sad is that?) I think my student got to maybe 4th or 5th grade before he dropped out, but considering that we started from zero, I think that was a success.

I used to cruise the children’s section in the library to find books he might be able to read.  I was afraid that might offend him, but it never did.  I think he had already given up his dignity by admitting he couldn’t read, and was willing to do whatever it took to be able to.  He was marvelous.

This brings me to the real reason for this post: the state of education in the U.S.  Not one person should be allowed to graduate from high school without being able to read and write, and add and subtract.  Yet it happens every day and has for decades.  No wonder we are behind the rest of the world in innovation, technology, and countless other areas.

When President Obama suggests that we need to have a renewed focus on education,  I’m right there with him.  You can see the lack of it every day, in common life. Reading Is Fundamental.

 

 

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3 responses to “Reading Is Fundamental

  1. Well how about this postulate? Before the federal government got involved in education very few Americans graduated high school without being able to read. I remember a few failing because they did fail.

    The first requisite to reading is the desire to read. It’s not governments role to motivate families to take care of their kids.

  2. After further consideration a couple more observations come to mind.

    “No wonder we are behind the rest of the world in innovation, technology, and countless other areas”.

    That is not the case actually.. Silicon Valley is far ahead of the rest of the world in innovation, technology spin offs, and trusting collaboration of diverse creative horsepower (even though it does exist in California) And we lead the world in medical innovation as well.

    It seems to me that what you have just said is at the crux of a basic differentiation between left leaning and right leaning thought. You say education is failing because some folks cant read. We must give it more attention. I hear that as “lets give it more Federal involvement” since you cite Obama. I say the Feds are the problem. Giving it more of the problem will not solve the dilemma, which while it is disconcerting is not worth a gazillion dollars of general revenue. We went to the moon without a Secretary of Education and a 300 million dollar federal budget.

  3. pt, I’m not sure how you got all that from what I said. Not being able to read is a serious handicap. Surely you would agree? And no, we are not ahead, we are behind. In any of the areas I named, you can do a simple search and find which countries are ranked best, and the U.S. will not be number one in any of them. It also isn’t as simple as that the first requisite to reading is desire. Really, someone has to teach you. After that, continuing to read is based on desire. I just think my “student” should have been taught in school.

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