We have all heard “give a person a fish and you feed them for a day… teach them to fish and you feed them for life.” I say, “first you need to feed a person, so they have the strength and the dignity to learn how to fish… next, you need to teach them to read.”
Although I’ve been deeply involved in community and public policy and public service for many decades, I don’t usually comment on education or literacy policy. There are certainly more than enough experts and pundits, and we strive to be a literacy “big tent” – remaining non-partisan in our public service.
Our mission at MagazineLiteracy.org is to leverage our talent and resources to facilitate the flow of reading materials from their varied and generous sources to new readers, not to reinvent the literacy wheels that are already well in motion or to overlap or to presume the needs of expert literacy agents.
However, the intensity of the current economic calamity and the impending dam burst of government and public financing and leadership necessary to reverse it and restore any semblance of balance drives me to underscore the obvious importance of getting back to and sticking with the basics, such as teaching children to read, and getting reading materials into homes with barren bookshelves.
The task will be that much more challenging, but no less important, as public service agents struggle to meet even more critical needs, like food for hungry children, families, and elderly neighbors. As consumers limit spending to necessities, and commerce slows, leading to more layoffs, the already frayed safety net of emergency food, shelter, and health care will be stretched to the breaking point.
If literacy and reading skills are the most basic ingredient for success and productivity in every corner of society, then it’s too easy, but terribly painful now to ask why so many children and adults in the U.S. and around the world cannot read well enough. Even with so much riding on the wave of a digital economy, the fastest growing e-commerce opportunities are around text messaging. No matter how many pages the internet grows to, no matter how many books Google digitizes, no matter how many magazines are available on the Kindle, not one can be read by a child or an adult unable to read.
Join our mission to feed children and families hungry to read and succeed.