Thursday, December 22, 2016

Responsibilities Toward Building Literacy

More "T'was the Night Before Christmas"
Although Isaac B. Werner was involved in the populist political movements of his time, he believed most of all in the importance of education.  He encouraged his local Farmers' Alliance group to buy books to educate themselves, and he donated dozens of his own books to that cause.

Isaac's efforts were in keeping with Neil Gaiman's belief that each of us has "responsibilities to the future."  Two weeks ago, I shared Gaiman's thinking about the importance of encouraging children to read fiction and of having libraries in their communities.  This week I will share the responsibilities Gaiman believes that each of us has to help create a literate and numerate future population.

Reading at Macksville Grade School
Although most of this blog will be about reading, I will add an example about what electronic aids have done to hinder a numerate future population.  My husband was flying with an exceptionally bright young man one day, and the need to calculate when to start their decent arose.  My husband did the calculation in his head, using current altitude, reasonable feet of descent per minute, and distance from the airport to determine when to begin their descent.  He had the answer in the time it took the young man to reach for his phone to do the math.  The young man exclaimed, "How did you do that?"  My husband explained the system of rounding off numbers to get a close approximation that those of us who attended school long before calculators and fancy phones could be carried in our pockets had been taught--a bit of 'magic' to this young man's intelligent but less numerate mind.

Reading at the Macksville Library Summer Reading Program
That is just one example of how instant answers from electronic aids are making young people less literate and numerate.  However, Gaiman's lecture focused on our adult responsibilities for helping children become more literate, so what follows are some of the responsibilities Neil Gaiman urges adults to practice:

" read for pleasure, in private and in public places.  If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations.  [AND] We show others that reading is a good thing."

" support libraries.  ...If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom.  You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future."

Reading Baum's Wizard of Oz
" find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean."

[To practice] " obligation to daydream.  We have an obligation to imagine.  ...individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different."

" clean up after ourselves, and not to leave our children with a world we've shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled."

" vote against [public policies] and politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy.  This is not a matter of party politics.  This is a matter of common humanity."  

Gaiman closed his lecture to the British Reading Society with a quote I have used in this blog before--one of my favorites.  Albert Einstein believed:  "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

Reading to grandnieces
Among the responsibilities Gaiman defined, I will close with one of the most important for parents, grandparents, and everyone else with the privilege of having children to whom they can read.  Gaiman reminds us " read aloud to our children.  To read to them things they enjoy.  To read to them stories we are already tired of.  To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.  We have an obligation to use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside."

For many families, reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve is  family tradition.  Neil Gaiman would approve.  If that is not yet your family tradition, it is never to late to start a new tradition for your family!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post!!!  In a year when authors of words meant to be heard and not read to oneself in silence are awarded the Nobel Prize (Bob Dylan, singer/songwriter) and Pulitzer (Lin Manuel-Miranda for the musical Hamilton), we must also be so aware that our culture has moved to a highly visual (think emojis) and less word-based structure for global communications. Words have weight that are heavier when combined with auditory senses. — A.M.