“I hate reading”
“I hate reading.”
“I am a horrible writer.”
“I haven’t read a book since high school.”
These are all real quotes that I have heard from my class members in medical school. This is a tragedy. Of course success in medical school doesn’t necessarily demand a strong background in creative writing and fiction but I still think this is a shame. We might not ever be able to get everyone to enjoy reading and writing, we might not ever reach 100% literacy for that matter, but if we are still producing smart and ambitious college educated adults with these kinds of biased feelings, we have a long way to go.
Literacy holds the very fabric of an enlightened society together. Without the ability to read, a man is at risk of becoming consumed by bigotry, violence, and gross misunderstanding. According to the CIA’s world fact book, 99% of men and women in the United States are considered literate. Compare this to Afghanistan where 43.1% of men and 12.6% of woman are considered literate. Greenland, Finland, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Norway, Andorra, and Georgia all have literacy rates of 100%. To be fair these countries are much smaller and do not suffer from the extreme poverty and income disparities that the U.S. does, but they have attained it, therefore it is possible. This should be what we strive for as a society.
The quotes from my former classmates, “I haven’t read a book since high school”, “I hate reading”, and “I am a horrible writer”, are all biases implanted early in these individual’s education and despite being in higher education for 8 years, they are still running strong. Attitudes are hard things to change. Therefore we need to work towards changing these attitudes early in life. Can any child truly “hate” reading? Fiction is fun. Think Harry Potter. I only know a few bitter 8-year-old cynics who didn’t enjoy that story. Also in the beginning, we are all “horrible” writers. Writing is a skill we gain. If a child isn’t enjoying reading and writing, the approach to his education needs to be changed early before he is stuck in a rut that will last him the rest of his life. Primary education should include creative writing and reading classes where the chains and dogma of stale test-based education are thrown off, letting the kid experiment and create. There are no right or wrong answers in creative writing. Let them fly free for a period of time each day because you can bet that a child who hates reading will grow into an adult who will be at a great disadvantage when they try and teach their own children to read.
We should first aspire for 100% literacy. After that we can strive for 100% literary enjoyment, which will be a much loftier goal. I understand that if you’re reading this you are not the exact audience that needs to be reached, but perhaps you know someone that does.