One of the many national events that occurred while I was on hiatus was the death of Barbara Bush. Now I never knew her personally, but I so admired her. You see, I always thought she was a real lady, and I’ve always wanted to be a “lady,” but seem to fall terribly short.
What is my definition of a lady, you ask? To me a lady is a woman who is confident, gracious, kind, generous, and who loves people and knows how to put them at ease. However, there is one trait Barbara Bush and I share, a love of literacy and passion to help others become literate.
Why Value Literacy?
What exactly is literacy? In its simplest sense, it is the ability to read. However, the ability to read is a complex skill set that includes more than translating letters on a page into words. It includes the ability to question what is read; to analyzed what is read; to hold and idea in your mind and compare and contrast it with others; to not just understand the words on page, but the author’s mind on the page. Even when we read for pleasure, we do this unconsciously.
Why is literacy still important when we have T.V., radio, audio books, podcasts, text to speech programs…? We can listen, and learn to listen well, (and there is a lot to be said for interpreting body language and tone), but it is much more difficult to listen and be analytical at the same time, or after you had heard something, to look back over it, tear it apart mentally, and draw deeper meaning from it.
So why be literate? It enables us to be better citizens from the local all the way to an international level. To vote wisely for a candidate of your choice, you need to learn about all the candidates. To wisely embrace a “movement” you need to understand its purpose, which sometimes is not so obvious behind its banners and signs.
For the individual, the acts of learning to read and reading engage the brain in a unique way and actually changes it, producing more synapses and connections, making it easier to think and learn. On a professional level, an ability to read, communicate effectively, and write are tickets to advancement (not the mention the ability to learn new skills, which often also requires reading). Education itself is dependent on knowing how to read. In our public schools, educational strategies shift at around the fourth grade, to not just learning how to read, but using your reading skills to learn other subjects.
And as for communicating effectively? Academic studies have shown that the more a person reads or writes, the better one becomes at doing both. While we communicate most frequently face-to-face, the ability to write involves thinking about what you want to say before putting it on paper and organizing your thoughts to present them in the most effective way—a very wise move when you have something important to say, either face-to-face or on paper.
Those of you reading this are already lovers of reading and writing, and like Barbara Bush and me, you care about helping others improve their reading and writing skills. Doing so starts in the home. Read to your children from the moment they can hear you, many people even read to their children before they are born. When reading picture books to young children, pause to ask appropriate questions about the words or pictures. The brains of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are growing and developing at a rate higher than they ever will again in life. They are ready to start learning from the people they are the very closest to from day one. Furthermore, associating words and story with the closeness of a loving caretaker loves primes their brains to view reading as something to be enjoyed.
Of course none of us have children this little for very long. They grow up, faster than the crop of spring weeds in my flower beds. However, as Mrs. Bush did during her lifetime, you can commit to helping other people learn. Volunteer in a local school (K-12) or adult literacy center. A “reading buddy” can make such a difference to a struggling reader. Or support a local, national, or international literacy organization. Here is the link to the Barbara Bush Association for Family Literacy.
What are some ways you nurture literacy in your home, in your work, or as a volunteer? What literacy organization do you know of or support? Please use the comment box to share. Let’s encourage one another.
Image: George Bush Presidential Library & Museum