Reading is fundamental

A public service announcement on both television and radio from the late 1960s and early 1970s promoted the idea that Reading Is Fundamental. RIF for short. 

Being a middle school English teacher, I subscribe to that philosophy. There are too many scientific studies that have conclusively determined that reading is the most educationally important skill a person should learn at a young age. Without the ability to read, a person is destined to frustration, certainly in all things education, but more importantly in life, generally speaking.  

Yes, there are anecdotal stories about poor readers who become CEOs and powerful and influential people. Those are the exceptions, however. Using today’s terminology, those people have beaten the metrics. They are rare. 

In the book To Kill a Mockingbird, the narrator, a 6-year-old girl named Scout, has a small crisis. She went to school already knowing how to read. Her teacher, a young, first-year teacher, did not like this, and she demanded that Scout cease reading with her father at night. The teacher’s claim was that Scout learned incorrectly and it would ruin Scout’s reading, along with the belief the teacher now had to break Scout of learning to read without professional instruction so that she could re-teacher the girl how to read “correctly.” 

Scout struggles with the idea, mainly because reading has been natural to her. In actuality, she learned to read all by herself, without her father’s instruction. She makes an amazing statement.“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” 

I know many people who love to read. I love to read. I tell my students that I read for 20-30 minutes every morning, and 20-30 minutes before I go to bed. It seems that I simply cannot not read before retiring, regardless of how late I get home and climb into bed. 

Scout was right. It is like breathing. It is food for my mind and soul. My morning soul food is the Bible, usually 5 chapters. Evening reading consists of a book I am reading for pleasure, or a book I have assigned to my students. 

Of course, I have a wide variety of students in my class, some of them very good readers, and on the opposite end, some who struggle with comprehension because they are challenged with sounding out the words.  

I would like to say that I feel sorry for the struggling readers, and in an educational sense I do. I also realize that they are going to find something in life that excites them as much as reading does me. To that end, our objective as teachers is to help students discover their life’s passion, their life’s work, even if has little to do with reading. 

Regardless, everyone has to be able to follow instructions, follow what is written on a computer screen, know how to read leases and fill out job applications, and a myriad of other things that require reading ability. 

One of the saddest moments in my life occurred when I was working in the office of a plant that manufactured shipping containers. The business was adding a shift on a particular machine and needed 4 more employees. The prospects had to come to our main office window, get an application, fill it out, and turn it in before leaving.  

I left for lunch one day, and the outer office was full. Three or four people in the group were sitting there, attempting to fill out the application, but who could not read. They had brought a friend or relative with them to read the application and fill it out for them. Needless to say, they were not considered for the job, for after filling out an application, they had to take a written test of basic skills privately. The test consisted of simple reading and math skills, each of which were necessary to work the job. 

Certainly, some of these applicants could have done the work, but they had no chance. It made me sad. 

The PSA was correct. Reading Is Fundamental. 

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