Many years ago, my company hired a young man to work at one of our sites. This young man, perhaps 35 years old at the time, had finished his job application at home and had brought it in for his interview, during which he talked candidly about his employment aspirations and past comparable professional experience. I assisted in his completion of orientation and the onboarding process, and he began the job site the next day with no issues.
Not a week later, he was called into our office for failure to submit satisfactory reports. These reports, a staple of the profession, were written in a purposeful sloppy shorthand, deemed unclear for anyone reading. We were prepared to suggest a training session during which he would sit with me and go through the steps to writing an effective report.
What we found out was that the young man had difficulty reading and writing in advance of a fifth-grade level.
At the time, it floored me because there were no red flags in his application or new hire materials. He had admitted, when prompted, that a friend had completed his application for him and that the same friend waited in a car in the parking lot for three hours during our orientation to help him complete any paperwork from me that seemed overwhelming. He was well-coached, granted, but that did not make me feel any less deceived.
Then I wondered why I was making the situation about me. Yes, my time had been wrongfully consumed, but this man was seemingly moved through grade school without truly being educated and, because of this system, could not maintain a position that required some degree of schooling demonstration.
I loathed the flip-flopping empathy I contended with for weeks thereafter. I wanted to find some available resources for him, isolate some educational management, find someone to help. I was upset that I cared too much for this man I’d never see again.
And I didn’t. It’s been something like 7 or 8 years, and this one former employee has remained in my brain all this time.
I am disturbed that he may not have had the educative advocacy he so badly needed. And, in 2017, this realistically persists.
Even then, before I had the subtlest thoughts of teaching English to adults, did I examine my most fanatic hypothesis for fostering the smallest tolerance for education: reading for pleasure.
I do not recall where the proposition emerged that encouraged this idea beyond loving to read as a child and my parents (and surrounding village) dunking me in reading opportunities. Since about the age of two, I nearly always had a book nearby. I’d babble away about the pictures for hours, and my mother would find books in my bed the next morning: “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “Little Critter” storybooks, “The Berenstain Bears,” “Little Golden Books,” anything my eyes could scan, I treasured. I inhaled “The Baby-Sitter’s Club” series, sometimes 2 or 3 novels a week in the summer. I would take down “Goosebumps” books in one sitting. When I was in middle school, we moved to a house that sits beside a high school with a public library attached.
Talk about heaven.
They knew me by name…the full-time librarian would “save” me “Sweet Valley High” books to check out because she knew I’d be by there every few days.
I aced advanced English courses in high school until I had taken all that was offered. I earned all kinds of “outstanding” English awards throughout my tenure, all of which I have stored here at home to show to my children when they are older. I led orations and assemblies…I portrayed narrators in summer acting workshops…I kept stacks of diaries…I entered local writing contests. There was no doubt that I’d major in English in college.
But my pathway would not have been so uncomplicated had my parents failed to cultivate the possibilities of a well-read life in me so early. My father did not have to read the Children’s Bible out loud to me and my sisters. My mother could have easily taken my books out of the bed and put them on a high shelf. Neither one of them had to buy one single book. We could have been pushed towards something else: we were, in fact, taking dance classes and were pretty artsy. My parents never told me what I should do; instead, I was instructed to “give it a try and see what happens.”
As a kid, reading allowed me to fly. Acceleration became primal to my existence.
I am the person I wanted to grow up to be because of the adventures I experienced in books growing up.
I have been reading almost nightly to Jrue for about year now, and Jai has begun to show a genuine keenness towards books, so she joins us when interested. I never want to tell them that they must read. I simply make books available at their eye level, even though it certainly means a lot of clean-up, and I make time to read out loud as much as possible, even if it’s from “mommy’s book.”
Reading for pleasure is excellent for our human minds, particularly younger ones.
Reader’s Digest discusses the undeniable merits of frequent reading: “. . .Children as young as six months who read books with their parents several times a week show stronger literacy skills four years later, score higher on intelligence tests, and land better jobs than nonreaders. But recent research argues that reading may be just as important in adulthood. When practiced over a lifetime, reading and language-acquisition skills can support healthy brain functioning in big ways.” (Specktor, “Here’s Why Your Brain Needs You to Read Every Single Day”)
A 2014 article for Psychology Today mimics this information. “. . .Researchers found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function,” says writer Christopher Bergland. “Interestingly, reading fiction was found to improve the reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of a muscle memory in sports.” (Bergland, 2014)
Additionally, “reading a good novel allows your imagination to take flight. Novels allow you to forget about your day-to-day troubles and to transport yourself to a fantasy world that becomes a reality in your mind’s eye.” (Bergland, 2014)
At the aesthetic threshold, reading exercises the mind enough to allow a person to engage in literate conversation as the world around us gets increasingly consumed in “dumbed-down” entertainment and social media. Enhanced communication prowess is rarely seen as a disadvantage. The Open Education Database lists more ways that our brains strengthen when preserving a steady reading habit.
It’s unfair to me that there are people on our planet who have never known the imagination of a C.S. Lewis or a Louisa May Alcott, the magic of a Stephen King or a Toni Morrison, have never flown with Peter Pan or Mary Poppins or Harry Potter. I am hoping to change that, here and now, even if it’s for a modest few.
For countless literacy resources, please visit Reading is Fundamental.
Bergland, Christopher. “Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function.” Psychology Today, Jan. 4, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function. Accessed Oct. 22, 2017.
Specktor, Brandon. “Here’s Why Your Brain Needs You to Read Every Single Day.” Reader’s Digest, n.d., https://www.rd.com/culture/benefits-of-reading/. Accessed Oct. 22, 2017.