Reading: a Tool for Life

“Plenty reading gives you knowledge. People can’t fool you easily. Because you can read and you can spell and you can write” – Something my mom said. And she’s not lying; the ability to read is its own kind of access and power to the world.

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Yes, access and power to the whole world.

It’s a privilege not everyone has due to limited resources or other inhibiting factors. But provided you have access to education (as we do free public education at the primary and secondary level in Antigua and Barbuda albeit with inhibiting factors like overcrowding and limited resources) and access to reading material (whether online or actual via the computer labs and school and public libraries provided albeit with inhibiting factors like, well, access), and reading programmes like the Cushion Club (which exists just to encourage children to read), then read, read, read.

Let your children see you reading, give books as gifts, read with your kids, read to your kids, read to help your kids if they’re struggling, read until you see their confidence and interest start to grow as they start to get it, read and have conversations about what they’ve read as they begin to discover how they think about things, read and know that for some reading may never become their go-to hobby but that’s okay. It’s the foundation. Even if science is their jam, because to ace that math, chem, or biology exam, they have to be able to read the instructions. The need and impulse to read is all around us from billboards as we drive along to the cheque from the job and the ATM where it has to be deposited reading is integral as we move through the world.

Reading for me isn’t strictly practical though. Though I do instinctively read (and edit, in my head) a lot of those street signs and billboards (seriously, hire a proofreader at least, guys) as I walk or drive along. Anyone who knows me knows I always have a book with me (in fact, to the person that came up to me that time on a street corner and said, “you always have a book?” yes, yes, I do). I read them on the bus (and try to restrain from reading when I’m walking or driving), I read them in line at the bank and at the APUA (where you can literally feel like you’re dying from how sluggishly the line is moving), I read while I wait for the concert to start (I’ve never read at the movies though, so I guess that’s somewhere). I read because the story sweet and I want to find out how it’s going to turn out, I read because reading and writing is my jam; I also read to travel. And that’s the gift you give your kid the first time you give them a book, a ticket to some other place from where they are – with children’s books that’s usually magical places, where they might run in to a faerie as the main character does in my book With Grace but real places too, places they may some day visit. They can get that from movies? I hear you and I’m not here to knock movies because I love them too. But what you’re doing when you allow them to unlock the worlds they read about by using their imagination, is lighting a creative spark in them. They’ll need that. Creative thinking, critical thinking are the underpinning of problem solving, and tell me that’s not a skill for life whether you’re a stay-at-home dad or a world leader. So called ‘creative industries’ ought not to be the only spaces where creative and critical thinking are valued.

Critical thinking also allows us to call BS on stuff when we see it (which I think is what my mother was hitting at: when you can read-and comprehend, nobody can give you a six for a nine) because it engenders both a curious and a self-questioning mind – the impulse to always know why/how come  and the instinct to look it up for yourself. And in time, the discernment needed to pick sense from nonsense.

I did a post on my personal facebook recently encouraging teachers when they give students research projects to encourage them to use the opportunity to develop research skills – not just hit the person up on social media or the phone. Going to the source is a legit research method  but the source may be too busy to respond to each individual query – especially if it’s a small community and those inquiries cycle in waves. Many of these kids, kids young as 9, can find GTA online and have enough sense to say GTA instead of Grand Theft Auto when you ask them what they’re playing (to make sure they’re not playing something they shouldn’t be), they’ve got google-fu…and that device so many of them have in their hands means that they have access to google to use that fu. Sure, they might hit a point where there’s something they can’t find without primary research (i.e. interviewing the source), but (given that it’s not always possible and in fact very rare to be able to access a source when doing research), those DIY research skills can be invaluable in tracking down the desired information. And that’s where reading comes in.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some really sharp people who can’t read or can’t read well – I know people like this, whose counsel I respect. But in this life we need all the tools we can get and bottom line, reading is a tool for life – a practical tool, a tool of the imagination, a research tool; we’d be advised to gift it to our kids, encourage them to keep it polished and use it well.

 

THE IMAGES in the slide show are mostly (though not all) images taken by me over the years – some are reading club related (the Cushion Club and the one at the Best of Books), some from the Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival (when it was still around), some from school visits, etc. etc. etc. Ask before lifting.