The one thing that ties all of our futures together and gives us the very best chance of continuing to overcome the vexing challenges of a VERY complex world is the SKILL of READING.
Are there simple solutions to complex problems? No, there is A simple solution to the complex problems of the twenty first century.
It is the SKILL of reading.
When a young child struggles with reading, the wedge is inserted that alienates that child from school for the rest of their lives.
Subgroups of struggling readers form, and develop blunt strategies to survive in an ever increasing world dependent on reading skills to even begin competing.
After a while these subgroups become full blown subcultures that gradually separate themselves from the larger community.
According to a study performed by Levon Lumb, a full seventy-five percent of those who cannot read, end up in the penal system. Conversely, those who receive help in learning how to read during jail time, when paroled, have a materially greater chance of not violating parole.
My Own Challenges
Growing up, I had a challenge reading.
There were two events that had the greatest impact on me relating to my own improvement in reading.
(Before I do, let me share my condition early on. From the beginning I was a slow reader. I also missed half of third grade because of polio.)
I’ll share six important educational events, and from there select the two that helped me move from being a halting, slow reader to a strong reader.
Six Good Educational Experiences
1. Sixth Grade:
My teacher was Mr. Danny. I remained in the lowest group in reading, but was accepted by the class. It was kind of like a socialist dream. We all felt equal and were treated fairly by our teacher. This was the happiest of all my elementary school years, maybe my entire formal education.
2. Eighth Grade:
My eighth grade science teacher, Mr. Talbert, took a special interest in me. He would help me study for the science tests. He put me in charge of the film projector, and made a special leather chair for me when I complained that the medal chair interrupted my concentration (Right). My first Christian act as a human being was when I shared the chair with others.
I continued to be a poor reader, but because Mr. Talbert took an interest in me, I began to take an interest in myself. I wanted to do better in school.
3. Tenth Grade:
That’s when peer pressure sets in. My peers were all in college preparation courses. I fought to qualify to be on a college “prep” track. I worked hard but almost always was a year behind my peers. I felt I was learning at a superficial level, meaning I was working to get good grades in order to be at some level of par with my peers. I can’t recall remembering anything after I took a test.
4. Theater arts college courses:
My first year of college I declared myself a theatre arts major. I had started taking parts in plays the summer before college and during college. I quickly learned that the essence of acting was memorizing lines. “Know your lines and hit your marks” was the new vocabulary I was exposed to. My director for the majority of plays I participated in was David Emmes, co founder of the now world famous South Coast Repertory Theatre. He expected flawless execution of your lines – and he got it.
5. Living in Argentina as a missionary:
While on my mission for the Mormon Church, I saw a missionary, one year ahead of me, reading Time Magazine. I admired him, so I started buying the same magazine and reading it once a week. His name was Rick James. At first I could understand very little of what was written. I kept chopping through each issue. By the end of my mission, I could get the general drift of some of the articles.
6. Doctoral studies:
I studied under the famous educator Earl Pullias. He had me write opinion papers. I’ve always had opinions, but I had difficulty stating them coherently. Pullias’ class began to solve that problem. Much of my writing over the pass thirty years I attribute to the discipline I developed under Pullias’ impact on me.
Of the six above options, I think I would pick theatre arts memorization and Time Magazine as the two experiences that most contributed to my improvement in reading.
Memorizing lines for plays demanded concentration. Whether it was correlation or causation, my reading speed, comprehension, and flow noticeably improved. Add to that, a year later when I was taking language classes at BYU in preparation for my mission, I had to memorize six lessons in Spanish.
Between memorizing lines for plays and memorizing lessons in Spanish, I was immersed for two and one half years in memorizing. I was required to articulate what I had memorized, pronounce correctly, repeat it hundreds of times, etc.
Reading Time Magazine required looking up the definition of hundreds of words, and then forcing myself to try with every ounce of concentration I could muster to understand the article. I would estimate that when I first started reading it, I understood maybe fifteen percent. By the time I left my mission two years later, I would estimate that I understood probably seventy percent.
If you have trouble reading, stick with it. If you want to read well, let time catch up with you. My suspicion is that one of my challenges was that I was a late bloomer. Sometimes reading takes time to develop in some of us.
Put yourself in situations where reading is a required skill. Join the community theatre group, try out for a church choir, volunteer to read for an elementary school class. Memorize short poems. Read something challenging. Try to understand ten percent, then fifteen percent and so on until you gain the ability to read difficult material.
Reading is a skill that can be developed.
By the way don’t use the excuse of a handicap. Sometimes my two eyes don’t coordinate well, resulting in double vision. Usually the brain works at adjusting and adapting.
I believe we actually have reached a consensus in the world. In the digital information age, reading is the most fundamentally important skill that each human being needs to have to succeed. Nothing comes above it in importance.
It should be required that before anyone can participate in competitive sports, they must first show that they have started to read, even if it is a bit slow starting out. (Radical, but why not throw it out there just to see if there is any interest.)
In school, if a child is having trouble reading, keep the child reading until they can read. Then go on to other things. To live is to read.
Invest in online reading courses that are free, and are tied to online interactive games.
If people are incarcerated, and it is found that they can’t read, put them through the most innovative reading rehabilitation available.
If children are in poor circumstances, move heaven and earth to get them into preschool programs as early as possible so they can learn a common language and begin their preparation for having successful kindergarten experiences.
Money is now flowing to the states from the federal government, e. g. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, to bolster and strengthen pre-kindergarten education. Studies indicate that preschool education gives children anywhere from a three month to nine month advantage in reading, language and math skills as they enter kindergarten. Studies also show that for every dollar invested in preschool education there is a seven dollar return in reduced spending downline for government services. (The two above studies were mentioned online by the Society for Research in Child Development.)
Right now America ranks 25th in the world in preschool enrollment. Over the next decade we’ll probably jump ten to fifteen spots. The results will be a smarter America. If we are smarter, then the building blocks to solving critical economic and social challenges are on their way to being solved.
I’m so impressed with preschool preparation for children that I am partnering with two of my daughters to expand our consulting firm to include innovative curriculum to preschool and elementary schools.