Readers are smarter, better, kinder, nicer and sexier? Right?
Sorry to disappoint, but reading is not a sign of intellectual or moral superiority. It’s not naturally acquired through exposure to books, and all you have to do is look at Tom Cruise, Ameer Baraka, Keira Knightley and Octavia Spencer to see that dyslexics are indeed very sexy (and smart!). It’s simply a matter of how your brain works. The dyslexic brain has a harder time learning to reading. But it adapts! Now how smart is that?
The problem is that reading, and the books we consume (both in amount and type of book) is dripping in value judgements. These judgements apply to children and their parents too.
It starts early, and it sounds like this:
The goal, I believe, is laudable. It’s about encouraging literacy. Because we do need to read to get a good job and get stuff done.
But I prefer to think of reading as a skill that should be taught like all other skills. Not something that defines us as a “good” or “bad” person.
The author of Life Long Literacy blog says is perfectly:
“Literacy and love of literature are two completely different things. The former is essential and the latter is personal.”
The moralizing around literacy is counter-productive: it suggests that everyone can and should enjoy reading and that if you don’t read well there is something inherently wrong with you (lazy, stupid, inferior).
This approach has unintended consequences: it means we’ve come to expect that all children will learn to read without providing the necessary support, or even teaching teachers how to teach reading. It also means those of us who don’t read well, and our children, are made to fell less than. Less than smart. Less then good. It’s a type of stigmatization that is so pervasive I don’t even think we realize it’s happening.
Look. We have a literacy problem here in Canada.
The Conference Board of Canada states that despite efforts to improve adult literacy rates:
- 48% of Canadian adults have inadequate literacy skills—a significant increase from a decade ago
If we agree that literacy is one of the most important skills in our society, I hope we can also agree that literacy is not easily acquired by some, and that this group of people (called dyslexics!) needs to be identified and receive support early in life.
Go ahead. Hand out heaps of free books to children. Share all the lovely memes about the magic of reading. But when you’re doing so, consider the child who will look at that book as a source of frustration, and find a way to accommodate these kids (and adults).
- hand out graphic novels like the Captain Underpants series? Or magazines, poetry books or short story collections?
- provide books in alternate formats?
- partner with dyslexia organizations to find new ways to promote literacy, and to provide information to parents?
- talk to dyslexics directly to create dyslexia-friendly approaches to learning and literacy?
- provide support and understanding to parents who have literacy or learning challenges?
- spread the word that reading isn’t a natural skill picked up by osmosis? That we need to identify learning disabilities early and provide effective reading instruction?
If we really want to encourage kids to read, this is how we’ll do it. Not by pretending everyone loves to read. And shaming those who don’t.
“Moral judgements were put upon reading. Smart people, good people read with their eyes. Those who didn’t were somehow defective.” ~David Flink