Like so many others, I spent some time thinking about how to spend World Read Aloud Day. Last year we celebrated with Skype visits with authors Gae Polisner, Sarah Darer Littman, and David Macinnis Gill.
I knew having Skype visits for every single class would be tough to pull off again, so I decided to switch gears completely.
I had pitched an idea in the fall of having my ninth graders come read to the elementary students – to get to be rock star readers all on their own. I had visions of how this would revitalize my readers and encourage the younger readers.
I wish I could tell you what happened.
The sad truth is that I fell for the weather service’s reports of a big snow storm heading our way. By the end of the school day yesterday, I decided to postpone our trip until next Wednesday.
I nearly had a riot on my hands first thing this morning. Kids were dressed nicely for the occasion. They were looking forward to this brief field trip. They wanted to see their old teachers, perhaps younger siblings, and they wanted to share their books. They came in asking where we were meeting after second period to go.
Crud. I forgot to let them know.
So I sent out a tweet from the freshman class accounts (which most of my ninth graders follow via text messaging from their phones).
That just led to more students dropping in and pointing at the non-snow outside my window, looking unhappy.
So we had a change of plans, but I will call it an opportunity for learning.
We spent some time talking about what World Read Aloud Day is meant to do: highlight and draw attention to the plight of illiteracy worldwide. The whole point is to, “Celebrate by reading aloud, giving away a book, or taking action in any way you can to Read It Forward on behalf of the 793 million people who cannot read.”
I couldn’t help but wonder how that number compared to the population of the US or the rest of the world.
There are more people on this planet who cannot read is more than double the entire population of the United States, but still a mere 11% of the population of the planet.
That’s far too many people who cannot benefit from this most basic and necessary skill. They cannot look up answers to questions. They cannot escape into a good book. They are limited to non-print news sources and having others read letters and other communications to them.
This is a basic right. A right that apparently far too many people are denied.
A right that far too many people in this country apparently choose not to embrace.
According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project survey from December 2011, 78% of Americans ages 16 and older read a book in the previous year.
That means that we have 22% of our nation’s population who either cannot read or choose not to read books.
I’d like to think that means that newspapers and magazines and blog posts are still possible reading material for that 22%, but I fear the worst.
Looking at more specific breakdown of the readers in that 78%, they found that:
“Roughly three in 10 are light readers (one to five books in the past 12 months); another 25% to 31% are moderate readers (six to 20) and just about two in 10 are heavy readers (21 or more books) in the past 12 months.”
I spend so much time talking to my friends and family who live in that heavy reader category along with me that I admit I was a bit surprised to see how small that group is: just 20% of 78% of 315, 000,000.
Is it any wonder that my heart sunk when I heard on NPR this morning that the Secretary of State John Kerry said that, “Americans have a right to be stupid if you want to be”?
I will refrain from typing here what really went through my mind when I heard that, but I couldn’t help but be frightened that this is a right worth fighting for in a world where there are so many struggling to become educated, to be able to read and write for themselves.
I’m begging you from the deepest part of my soul:
Fight the right to be stupid and promote the right to read.
Read to your kids, your friends, your family, your students. Put books in the hands of total strangers. Talk about the best books that are out there, the newspaper articles that have been haunting your thoughts, the stuff you come across in your Twitter & Facebook feeds or blog posts or random internet quests.
Whatever you do, don’t give up.
I can promise you that you won’t be alone.