Is Reading Really So Important, Compared to Our Other Problems? (Share this message if you agree.)

In light of all the dangerous problems facing us today (poverty, cancer, crime, starvation, pollution, government shut-down, unemployment, wars), is the issue of reading and education such a big concern right now? Illiteracy seems rather minor compared to these other life and death matters. It is understandable how distracted we have become with so many fires burning.

And yet, what is causing many of these problems? I am not suggesting that reading the latest novel is going to solve poverty or war. But the lack of education and knowledge is most definitely at the root of many of these problems.

In manufacturing, one of the most important jobs in a company is Research and Development. Any business which falls behind in R&D will eventually go out of business. Farmers understand the point of keeping our eye on the future. People need to eat today. But, if the farmer doesn’t set aside some seed and plant a new crop, he knows fully well that there may be nothing to eat in a few months. No matter what is going on in the farmer’s life, however big those other issues may be, if he doesn’t plant he will have no hope for his future.

The crop of America is the children who will run this country in the near future. R&D is what our schools are all about. Considering how important our children are to each of us; considering how they will run our businesses, grow our food, build our bridges, and teach the next generation; how well are we doing in the area of R&D (education)?

Frogs in a Pot

You have probably heard the lesson of how you cook a frog by gradually turning up the heat—the danger sneaks up on him. The warmth feels good until he no longer has the strength to jump out. How does this lesson apply to the condition of education in this country.

Go back 150 years and we find children who could read books like the King James Bible by age six or seven. To understand how far we, as a nation, have drifted, compare books written in the 1600’s to the 1800’s to what kids read today. More than half of our high school graduates are unable to read (or understand) the documents written by the founders of this country. The Federalist Papers were written for anyone to read, not an elite minority. Few bother to read them today, and yet, many of us act as if poor reading ability and ignorance are nothing to worry about. The frog is in the pot.

We would like to believe our children are learning more than children did a century ago. But, I have seen a story about a 1923 eighth grade standardized test which many of today’s college graduates would fail. With the inventions of the 20th Century, the desire to learn from books has decreased. Instead of reading a book, I can watch the movie about that book in ninety minutes. Television invaded our homes and we allowed our children to “watch their favorite shows” instead of encouraging them to read a book. The heat gets gradually turned up.

Now we have the inventions of the 21st Century. The Internet. I-everythings. Our phones are more powerful than the computers that controlled our Space Shuttles. We no longer need the library because just about any question can be “searched” on the internet. With 24/7 email and IM, who has time for something as “useless” as a book? Is it too late to jump out of the pot?

So, here we are today with reading, math and science scores going down, ever so gradually year after year. The heat is being turned up little by little, so that we hardly feel it and don’t recognize that we are getting cooked. National and international test scores show how American children are falling behind many other industrialized nations. If we had dropped from first to the bottom overnight, there might have been a cry to “save the nation”, but the fall has been so gradual that few seem to be bothered by the fact that The United States of America now ranks with some Third World nations.

Some people have suggested that books will disappear and reading will be virtually unnecessary once all communication and learning is through watching videos. I certainly see the value of being able to download a video on how to change the head gasket on my car (which my son and I did). But, are we really going to be able to do away with all reading? Are we possibly “throwing out the baby with the bath water”, not realizing what we are losing?

To give you an idea of how far we have drifted, there came a moment while writing my book, Point to Reading: Hope for the Future Through the Love of Reading, that the shocking realization came to me that as many as 80% of American adults would never read it. In essence, we have become like children who are starving because we have forgotten how to feed ourselves. How was I going to reach the four out of five American adults who don’t like to read so they can help their children love to read? The irony of it all is that I must create a video edition of Point to Reading so people can watch and learn how to build the love of reading in their children.

If you are one of the “other 20%” who still read a book now and then, what are you willing to do about this? Will we wake up from this bad dream? Do we go “gently into the night”, or do we do what it takes to help America retake its position as the most educated nation with the brightest future of any other place on earth?

astronaut with PTR

Henry Skinner-Larsen is the author of Point to Reading and the PTR Jumpstart Manual. The principles of Point to Reading™ are based on the belief that are children are smarter than we imagine and can learn way faster than we allow. In addition, we can best prepare our children for success by sending them to school already knowing how to read. That way, children can learn and teachers can teach.

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