Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. – Frederick Douglass

National Reading Awareness MonthMarrying my husband has taught me two important things about reading:

  • not everyone loves reading.
  • people who don’t love reading are as smart and informed and wise (or not) as people who do read.

That said, I still don’t understand him in this because in a very fundamental way, reading is part of who I am.  But just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean I don’t respect it.

My husband, however, can read.  He has been taught to read and encouraged in that task by his mother – a school teacher – and by me, as much as I can without becoming obnoxious.  (I’m fairly sure I don’t toe that line very well all the time.)  Not all non-readers are like that however.  Many folks are not given the opportunity to learn how to read, and if they can read, they don’t have access to the books that might encourage them to delve deeper into that experience and knowledge.

Illiteracy is a very real, very pressing issue. 

According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read. – Huffington Post

A few years ago, I had the honor of teaching a young man in my college English class. He had been recruited to the school because he was a big man who could play basketball.  This guy was amazing – kind, funny, smart – but he could not read . . . not with the proficiency required to even apply for a bank loan.

Reading is a fundamental life skill.  We need it to navigate the basic elements of life – from driving to grocery shopping to banking to working.  What must it be like to be a 21st century American and not be able to access the information online?  I cannot even imagine.

Under the system of slavery in the U.S., enslaved people were not – in almost all settings – allowed to read and write.  Enslavers and the institutions that supported slavery (which was almost all of them) knew that if people could read and write, they would gain knowledge, and as that slogan goes, “Knowledge is power.” In many places in the South, the education of enslaved people was illegal.  On the plantation where I grew up, the master was almost beaten to death because he did educate the people he enslaved.  (Note – that does not make him “good.” It just makes him, in this one way, a bit better.)

Literacy matters. 

I often think of that young man in my class and wonder how he is doing.  I wonder if his basketball skills have carried him far enough into financial stability that he’s okay.  I wonder if he found someone who could teach him the way I could not find my way, too. I wonder if he ever gets angry that we, his teachers, failed him.  He should be angry.

We all should.

National Reading Awareness Month is an effort to encourage ALL OF US to read aloud to children for 15 minutes each day. We need parents to do this work, yes, but we all need to work to this goal as well.  Reading to children . . . it’s a simple beautiful thing . . . we can all contribute. 


My friend Tom DeWolf responded to my post from yesterday about author autographs.  He doesn’t agree with me. . . . and that’s totally okay.  Check out his post here – http://tomdewolf.com/why-i-love-to-collect-author-autographs/