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Getting Children To Be Truly Literate

May 7, 2017

Books have been a center to my life from the very start.  From my parents reading to me, and then learning to read earlier than my peers, to dad taking me each Friday night to our local library, and to this very afternoon where I spent several hours with a pot of coffee and the printed word.  There is no end to the joys found from reading.  And yet fewer young people are learning the wonders found within books.

This weekend I read a most interesting article written by Republican Senator Sasse who made an attempt to touch on some issues that will create adults from today’s children.  I strongly concur with the following.

Reading done well is not a passive activity like sitting in front of a screen. It requires attention, engagement and active questioning. Unfortunately, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American now reads only 19 minutes a day—and the younger you are, the less you read.

That our young people take so little interest in reading is sad, but not just for them. It also keeps them from growing into the sort of engaged, responsible citizens our republic needs. America’s founders understood literacy as a prerequisite for freedom and self-government, and we are paying the price today for failing to take that truth seriously.

The first step is to encourage them to become quantity readers. A friend introduced Melissa and me to a challenge called “The Century Club.” To be a member, you must read 100 books in a year. Quite a few people can read two solid books in a week, but knocking out almost two a week for an entire year is daunting.

With children, you have to start with light books to set them on the path to 100. But as they develop the habit of reading, you can add more challenging titles. Our children haven’t yet hit a hundred in a year, but it has become a healthy, behavior-shaping goal.

Quantity is important, but quality is the bigger, long-term goal. When our girls were not yet teens, we let them pick just over half of the books in their sequence. Now we have them propose a handful of books for us to select from, and if the books aren’t rigorous enough, we intervene more aggressively.

They’re pretty good about wanting to stretch themselves, but we’ve also steered them to especially important books that will help them not just to learn their place in the world but also to comprehend the riches of the traditions they’re inheriting.

What’s on that bookshelf? Other people’s broad headings will vary, but ours include God, the Greeks, Shakespeare, the American idea and markets.

 

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