Remember Levar Burton? He used to have that funky mustache and those big eyes, trying to coax us into using our imaginations. I used to be glued to the television set, waiting for the next adventure and the next book. I had no problem watching it on television, but then I used to cringe when my mother would force me to actually “read” two books during summer break, and then write a book report. I would stare at “Heidi” thinking, “Get up that stupid mountain, little girl.” Then something happened; I began to love to read. I would go through novels written by VC Andrews, Judy Blume and Francine Pascal, with such interest. It wasn’t a chore anymore. It had become a leisurely activity. I didn’t know why my mom was so adamant about me reading, or about learning the 10 vocabulary words she would post on the refrigerator every week for me to memorize, until I got older.
When I got older, I realized that there are so many adult people walking around who can’t spell, or aren’t on the reading level they should be on. Twitter is a prime example of how people are semi-illiterate. I gawk at celebrities who post tweets, sounding like they are in the 8th grade. Reading helps you develop your comprehensive skills; it builds your vocabulary, helps with your grammar, and helps you articulate yourself in meetings and other public domains. America is the land of personality, videos and music, and people are getting by being illiterate. I wouldn’t be surprised if a statistic came out that said that most Americans aren’t on the reading level they should be. Giving a friend a newspaper article and having them read it out loud would probably shock us all; or having them write a letter would probably look like they dropped out of high school, because the punctuation and period placements would be all incorrect. Just because someone can pronounce words doesn’t always mean they comprehend them or the context in which they are being used.
My mentees are always laughing at me because I am such a disciplinarian when it comes to this. About eight years ago, an intern of mine wanted me to forward a letter he had written to get a job with one of my colleagues. I said, “No problem. I’ll put in a good word for you, just send it over.” He had just graduated high school and was a very bright, enthusiastic young man, whom our morning show had grown to love. However, when that letter was deposited in my inbox, my mouth dropped. My mind raced at how he could have possibly graduated high school. He had written the letter in a way that reflected the way he spoke to his friends on the corner. Grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and slang all graced the page. With my sternest voice, I called him up and told him that the letter was completely inappropriate and that my colleague would look at him like a fool. He was alarmed, but at the same time thankful. I had taken the time to constructively correct him, and when he sent the letter the next day, it was perfect. Presently, he is an executive at a television station and we correspond via email often. His writing is impeccable.
He is one of my favorite success stories, and my current mentees are along the same path, because I take the time to chastise them about their writing, simply stating, “If you write like that in casual text, you will forget how to write properly when it’s necessary.” They grunt, but appreciate my constant concern about their success. I wish all parents took that initiative instead of positioning their kids in front of video game systems or the television. I was far from happy to have to read as a child, but I’m glad my mother stuck by her guns and helped nurture my creativity and imagination. It took a minute but, like everything else, it became a habit.
Although our society is changing rapidly, and we are becoming a fast-paced, technology savvy culture, the fundamentals should not be lost. When you look at the statistics of education, ask yourself what demographic is at the bottom of the totem pole. There are some drastic changes that need to be made immediately. So instead of just buying a child a 60-dollar video game, also buy them a 15-dollar book. Education is nurtured in the home, first and foremost.
I don’t want to come off as a hypocrite, or give the impression that I’m the best writer or grammatical tactician. I asked two friends to proofread this blog because I have no problem understanding my weaknesses and am always trying to improve upon them. They are better writers/editors because their professions warrant them to be. I just urge everyone to do the same.
Here are some various books that challenged me, changed my perspective, and sparked something in my spirit. It’s never too late to try to improve ourselves. Ask yourself why slaves weren’t allowed to read- Knowledge is Power.
Check them out:
1. The Alchemist– Paulo Coelho *favorite*
2. Makes Me Wanna Holler– Nathan McCall
3. The Glass Castle– Jeanette Walls
4. The Art of Seduction– Robert Greene
5. War and Peace– Leo Tolstoy *favorite, but challenging*