Thursday, April 16, 2015

Open Letter: Parents Need A Philosophy Of Reading


An Open Letter to My Children, Grandchildren, and Young Parents Worldwide© 

Reports of various studies regarding literacy and reading from many venues are not only dismal, they are alarming! Many people wiser than me tell us that the basis of civilization and society depends on an educated citizenry, and literacy is at the heart of that education. The ignorant are vulnerable to tyrants of all kinds, economic and other forms of abuse, loss of freedoms and perhaps even slavery, not to mention the degradation in the quality of life itself. Schools are only part of the answer.  

The real solution comes out of the home. We have many examples, both positive and negative, which illustrate the power of the home in developing or abandoning literacy, and it doesn’t necessarily depend on either economic or educational status–as potent as these factors are. Many reared by illiterate and poor parents, or even without parents, have been taught and encouraged to improve their condition by learning to read and gain an education. The lessons for young parents are obvious, but I want to stress one important point that I have come to believe is often overlooked even by those committed to the education of their children. It was in my life. I have come to the counsel I give below by hard experience, and an investment of much time, study, and thought. 

It seems to be the rare young couple who have a very comprehensive understanding of the importance of reading and education to the individual, community, nation, and world, beyond the vague notion that society depends upon it, or they are necessary to “get a good job.” This is due to the fact that one’s own parents did not possess such an understanding and therefore did not transfer it to their children. In addition, most teachers in our schools do not possess a well developed philosophy of education either–so how can a young parent be expected to have one?  

That is my point, you as young parents need to do some serious study, thinking, and discussing about these matters so you come to a deep understanding of the importance and value of reading and education, and so you can transmit to your offspring such a vision and such a set of values that it will motivate them to become life-long learners and to transmit that same set of values in a powerful way to their offspring and their generation. Here are a set of questions that can help you to evaluate the state of your present understanding and to help develop your philosophy.

  • In the last quarter of the twentieth century, Sterling W. Sill said a “Gallup Poll indicated that 56 percent of all American adults never completely read a single book after their formal education has been completed.” [Sterling W. Sill, The Majesty of Books, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), p. 16.] How do you measure up to that question? Are you one who has not read a book or very few books following your formal education? If so, why? What does your answer to these questions say about your understanding about the value and importance of reading?
  • How much have you thought, discussed and read about your responsibility as a parent to teach your children the importance of reading and of education in general? Have you read a single article or book on the subject of reading, before this one? Can you make a detailed list of the skills which are necessary to be a good reader in today’s world? What attitudes and traits must successful readers have? Now would be a good time to start such a list.
  • Do you have an articulated philosophy of reading? Articulate it, by writing it down. After you have done so, what is your evaluation of your philosophy? Does it seem weak and thoughtless, or have you considered many things in relationship to the important activity of reading? Are there other areas you should think about in relationship to reading? List them and begin to make some notes about those subjects. Come back and think about it regularly and add new thoughts and ideas. 
  • Do you have some large gaps in your understanding of the importance of reading? Is yours only a vague notion of its value, or can you be specific with your reasons? Is your list comprehensive, or only in the embryonic stage? If the latter, all the more important to get started so your children will have the benefit of your effort as soon as possible.
  • Do you understand that all mortals are born into a state of total ignorance? Do you understand that this is important to know because some of mankind’s worst enemies–superstition, intolerance, prejudice, and fear as well as other things--are the ugly step-children of that ignorance?  Do you believe a few years of elementary and secondary education, plus life-experience, is a sufficient body of knowledge in the face of the infinite number of important things one could but does not know? Therefore, do you believe that one of the challenges of mortality is to labor throughout life to learn and to eradicate ignorance? Do you believe that for these very reasons reading is never done?
  • Why do you value or devalue reading? Elaborate on this subject. Spell out what you think in detail. What experiences have you had, what prejudices do you harbor that color your view of reading? Are they legitimate? As you answer these questions you will learn a lot about yourself, maybe even discover a few things you don’t like. If you don’t value reading what can you do to change that, besides rationalize that you have been successful without reading, or know many who are?
  • Can you meaningfully and convincingly teach a child the value of the hard work required to learn to read, to gain many skills of reading such as speed, comprehension, and evaluation, as opposed to the fun of playing video games or watching TV? If you don’t yet understand this yourself, perhaps your philosophy of reading and education needs some tuning up. Can you, like Jewish mothers, figuratively put honey on the cover of a book so children will grow up associating sweetness with reading?
  • What is your philosophy about the relative importance of experience compared to reading in terms of learning? Is one more valuable than another? If so, why? If not, why? How do they provide knowledge in different categories? In your view, is the choice between one or the other, or do you believe and can you articulate your belief, that  both are necessary?
  • List and elaborate on the many ways reading not only facilitates education, but is useful, nay, essential in modern life. Do you understand the various roles reading plays in developing the spiritual side of human beings? Could you write a meaningful brief essay on the role reading plays in creating and maintaining a civilized society? Or, how about an essay on how reading may contribute to and enhance creativity?  Could you do the same about the many ways reading enriches one’s personal life?
  • Among all that one can know, do you believe there are some priorities–some things that are more important to know than others? If you do have priorities, what are they, and why should they be priorities in learning? (Slow down a bit here. Is it possible that your list may be misdirected, that it is simply an unexamined list of your own personal likes or preferences? It is possible that you haven’t examined and weighed this matter as much as you should have.) How have you done with your list? Do you set a proper example in this regard for your children and others, or is it a mater of “do as I say, not as I do” for you? Or, are you easily distracted from your self-determined priorities by the exigencies of life, giving in to the desire for leisure and “fun,” or simply lack the self-discipline to follow through on what you really believe is important?
  • Project yourself 40 years into the future. Will you regret neglecting books in your youth and throughout your life? Please believe me, bitter experience will finally teach you of the foolishness of your ways. A mind is a terrible thing to waste; the consequences of doing so are heavy and long-lasting.
  • Do you know how to find the “good books”? Do you have a clear notion of what may constitute a good book? What criteria would you use to make that judgment? How are you personally doing in becoming acquainted with all good books? What do you need to change and to do in order to fulfill this important commandment?
  • Can you explain to a child, or anyone for that matter, the benefits of reading a book rather than simply seeing the movie version? Is it clear to you what beneficial things and activities get lost in watching a movie that are present while reading a book?
  • If your child challenged you about going to school or learning to read, can you give them a list of positive reasons for doing so? Can you really defend the activity of reading? In a powerful and convincing way, or are your thoughts about the subject confused, uncertain, amorphous? If your list isn’t well over twenty-five items long, I suggest you have more thinking to do about the subject.
  • Do you believe that there are more important reasons for being well educated  than simply getting a good job, being wealthy, or having a life-style that allows you to have all the material goods and leisure time you want? If so, list them. Do you believe that reading is one of the most important pleasures available to man, and can you convey to your child the joy of the life of the mind? If you don’t believe this, I suggest you do additional reading and thinking about it, because there is a huge and very important aspect of life that you have not yet experienced or discovered that will hinder you from convincing and motivating your children to read–and it may explain your own lack of motivation to be a life-long learner.
  • Do you have the philosophy that you are a “doer” and that you have neither the time nor the inclination for reading and learning? Are you transmitting that same philosophy to your children? Is it more important to you to take your family hunting, skiing, to sports arenas, or other forms of recreation than to hit the books? Does it have to be one or the other? What about balance in life? What about the hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of very busy and very successful people who have learned that to keep abreast of their profession and to simply have a more enriched life they must devote some time daily to reading and self-improvement? Here, I suggest reading Edward Wagenknecht, Seven Worlds of Theodore Roosevelt, Lyons Press, 2010, because he was one of the great men of both action and thought.
  • Do you believe that being well informed is critical to success in almost any job today, even those considered “blue collar” jobs? Why?
  • Do you believe that a single book, has the power to change a person’s life? Is that true in your life, or the lives of anyone you know? Can you explain to your children why a book can change a life? Can you tell a child or anyone else, in an authoritative knowledgeable way more than one story of someone whose life was changed by a book?
  • Do you understand and believe that reading is important to:
  1. Simply gaining knowledge, understanding, and wisdom
  2. Foster thinking, pondering, meditation
  3. Generating questions of all kinds, some of which are catalysts for further study, many of which are important for the present, and some for the future
  4. Stimulating the imagination and facilitating creativity
  5. Redirecting a life; inspiring change
  6. Awakening a life-long interest in something
  7. The development and refinement of one’s character, values, and the principles by which one lives
  8. Developing other skills of communication, such as the expansion of vocabulary, or the strength, power, and/or beauty of expression, verbal and written; helping one become a better writer, speaker, and speller
  9. Stimulating your own original and unique thoughts; shaping thinking, teaching one how to think, analyze, assess, and evaluate
  10. Keeping a fresh outlook, expanding one’s perspective, and looking at life from many sides
  11. Understanding life; giving it deeper meaning and purpose
  12. Living a thousand different lives in one lifetime
  13. Traveling to inaccessible places all over the globe
  14. Enhancing personal achievement
  15. Charting and navigating through the dangerous seas of human life
  16. Learning new skills
  17. Challenging us, to be more, to do more
  18. Encouraging individuality and uniqueness
  19. Obtaining inspiration and motivation
  20. Shaping and/or changing our attitudes, beliefs and responses to situations
  21. Gaining the self-help one so often desires
  22. Learning about any conceivable subject
  23. Recreation and pleasure
  24. Success in one’s profession, avocation, hobbies and other interests; learning better ways to do your job
  25. Informing and altering opinions and beliefs
  26. Facilitating growing up rather than just growing old
  27. Improving our time (making effective use of time)
  28. Empowering individuals and societies
  29. Finding solutions to problems
  30. Associating with the greatest minds and hearts of the world in every endeavor and walk of life
  31. Finding understanding companions who can give us advice and encouragement for all the situations of life in which we find ourselves
  32. Break out of the prisons of our own parochialism
  33. Challenge and question our self-imposed limitations
  34. Gain knowledge and experience without wasting time by making all the mistakes ourselves
  35. Keeping a balance in life
  36. Having the necessary time to wrestle with and fully grasp difficult concepts and ideas
  37. Giving us a broader view of the human condition and human nature
  38. Piquing interest in new subjects and avenues of interest
  39. Life-long progression and growth
  40. Produce a “fire” inside for an infinite number of things or ideas
My fondest wish for my family and the families of America, indeed the world, would be that the wonderful art, pastime, skill, creativity enhancing, joy-giving, crucially essential activity we call reading will not become obsolete, lost, and forgotten in your life or in the society in which you live. Please think on these things and take this letter seriously. As you do, it will bless your life, the lives of your family and of your world.

God bless,

Danel W. Bachman

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