Literacy: little or big, learn to read

(Lily Choi | The Oswegonian)
(Lily Choi | The Oswegonian)

As an avid reader, I’m often disheartened by the phrase, “I only read books for school.” Before I go any further and come off as a hypocrite, I’ll say first that I have indeed said this and thought this exact way. Trust me, I regret it.

As students, we were all expected to read and not just frequently, but vigorously. From the time we are able to read we’re expected to not only process information, but also critically analyze it as proof that we are competent readers. The years and years of this being done on repeat can truly take a toll on someone and the result is a scorn for reading and more importantly, a negative attitude toward literacy.

Literacy refers to being able to effectively read and write, and it also means being knowledgeable in a certain area. What this definition implies is that literacy isn’t just being able to read and write, it’s a building block of success in every area.

Face it, reading is hard to avoid and it’s a necessity for everyday life, but that’s only to a certain degree and there are numbers to support it. 17,000 adults in Oswego County cannot read above a fifth grade level. You may be thinking to yourself, “How do these adults get by?” but in reality they’re just getting by.

These adults are most likely able to make it through their days without much issue. These adults most likely don’t read recreationally and they can read signs, menus and most notices because they use simple language. Like I said, avoiding reading is hard but, keeping it simple isn’t. Even though this is a serious issue and I commend organizations like the Literacy Volunteers of Oswego County for addressing it, it’s causing a whole different problem.

Of those 17,000 adults, how many do you think have children? This brings me back to the point I made earlier: Those children whose parents weren’t strong supporters of their literacy didn’t see a point in doing those book reports at any age. Those kids then grow up to either realize how important literacy is or they grow up seeing their parents and elders as examples. Thus, we’re thrown into a cycle.

Along with improving someone’s life when an effort is made to break this cycle, literacy becomes more than reading and writing. It becomes essential to crafting a well-rounded person. There are certain qualities readers share and in no way are they undesirable. Readers are highly empathetic people and in our society this is a trait that is growing scarcer by the day. You may think I’m crazy but I mean it; a little empathy can go a long way.

How can a college student relate to a refugee from South America or an elderly white man relate to a young lesbian? The answer is reading. Without even reading a story about one of these types of people, reading still gives you insights into human emotion and emotion is a universal language.

It’s undeniable that children emulate their parents and those they look up to, so this is exactly where change should start. We need to incite the same love for reading many of us felt when we first realized how special reading was. Literacy is too important an issue to ignore and it will always be a problem, but it will always have more than one solution.