If You Read A Kid A Book…Can You Save Our Country?

My older child "reading" to my younger child.

This post is not about how vital it is to read to your kids.

I’m fairly certain that anyone reading anything on this site is quite aware of the importance of reading to and talking with children.  There really is no age that is too early to begin this.

You all know this.

There is no debate. Kids who are read to and talked with do better academically (and in many other areas too).

Literacy…of all contents…is the key to higher level thinking.  If kids can read words, numbers, problems, graphs, charts, etc., they can evaluate and synthesize…two of the most important higher level thinking skills for our ever-changing world.

So what about those who are not read to?  The kids who are set in front of a TV because, well, why would you talk to a child?  Besides, it’s the school’s job to teach my kid to read and be literate.

I know…lots of people say, “if the parents read, the kids will read”  and “so pick up a book and shut off the TV.”

This seems to be common knowledge, right?

Or is it?

Consider my childhood in rural Michigan.

I grew up in a very middle class household.  My dad is going to be 62 this year and has been working for the same company since he was 18. My mom has an accounting degree. They are still married after almost 39 years of marriage.

My mother was (and is) and avid reader. She burns through a large pile of library books per week. Her thirst for a good book is absolutely not  capable of being satiated.  My dad would claim he is not a reader, but in fact he reads the newspaper every single day along with his Bible, books on conservative presidents, and his hunting and fishing magazines.

Evenings as a child were filled with people engrossed in the written word.

I take after my mother with my love of fiction. Both of my brothers — who will also claim not to be readers — take after my dad in that they prefer non-fiction.

Both my brothers and I did quite well in school.

Now consider the high school in the district where I teach in urban Michigan.

Over 50% (it’s really more like 75%) of our students are on free and reduced lunch.  Most come from a one-parent home or live with a parent who is remarried and is re-starting his/her family.

I have 9th and 10th graders who have moms who are my age (34).

To get my 11th grade English class to read for homework is pretty much the same as saying I’m going to quick find a cure for AIDS on my planning period.  It’s just not happening.

I can yell and threaten and give quizzes and drop their grade…they WILL. NOT. READ.

Every year I poll my classes to find out what their favorite books were as children and who read to them the most.

Almost all of my students choose Dr. Seuss books as their faves and claim they were read to by teachers and/or school librarians.

I usually have one student talk about a parent or grandparent reading stories.

These kids who come from families of lower socioeconomic status and less formal eduction are just not being read to…and their parents/guardians are not reading.

In fact, these kids weren’t talked with when they were little.

My older son is two and a half and we have whole conversations.  I get down on the floor and listen to his stories and ask questions.  We read countless books and talk about shows like Word World and Busy Town Mysteries.

My students were put in front of Power Rangers and told to “shut up”.

How do we change this?

As long as there are parents who don’t read and don’t value reading, how are we supposed to instill this in students?

How do we convince them that learning to figure out the words is going to be so much better than letting a talking box do all the imagination and thinking for them?

How do we break the cycle of teaching kids to be non-readers?

If we ever hope to see a change in our economy, government, country, we need the lower class to get educated and get out of the lower class.

I know it seems idealistic to think that if every kid was being read Corduroy or Goodnight, Moon from toddler-hood on, our country could be better, but it’s what I truly believe.

So how do we make it happen?