05 August 2005

Do you want to gain the wisdom of the ages?

One of the luckiest things that ever happened to me was to have parents who read, thought reading was a valuable activity, and made it seem as essential to life as breathing. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother using a blackboard in the basement, teaching me to read. When I entered kindergarten, this gave me an advantage over my non-reading classmates that continued all through my schooling. I grew up in a house filled with books. What's more, I was encouraged to read whatever I wanted, not just the "age-appropriate" literature. Thus, at eight I was able to join my parents' reading group when they were discussing Shane; a couple of years later I was reading a physics treatise on piezo-electric crystals; and when I'd finished C.S. Lewis's marvelous Narnia series and pulled The Screwtape Letters off the shelf, no one stopped me.

Books are others' voices, talking to us across time and space, letting us know what they've learned. This ability of language to transcend a short lifespan and limited mobility is what has made humanity the successful species it is. This is why it's so crucial that children learn to read, and are allowed to enjoy it. And it's why Patrick Welsh's essay on how American schools are failing their students when it comes to reading is so important. Go and read it. And then sit down and read a book with your child.

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