Reading Or Not

Reading Or Not: Kids need the right role models


Scholastic's Read Every Day Campaign. Picture: Scholastic Facebook Page

Amanda Diaz

Taylor Swift does it. So does Sarah Jessica Parker. Apparently even George Bush indulges occasionally.

I’m talking about reading, of course.

This month, publishing giant Scholastic is celebrating its 90th anniversary with the Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life campaign. The campaign’s website features interviews with people like SJP, Whoopi Goldberg and the former US president waxing lyrical about the joys of reading. The aforementioned Miss Swift is even performing in a live webcast to schools involved in the program.

Scholastic isn’t the only company using star power to encourage reading. The American Library Association recently released posters of Harry Potter trio Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. The actors are clutching copies of The Master & Margarita, Romeo and Juliet and Clockwork Orange respectively, the word READ emblazoned on each picture.

The message is undeniably valuable. Reading is important. It’s one of the single biggest influences on not only educational success but also social skills.

But why is it that the people like Carrie Bradshaw and Harry Potter are the ones charged with spreading this message?

Studies have revealed that there are two main factors that determine a child’s reading habits- the reading culture at home and the immediate availability of material. This means that creating the right kind of environment is the responsibility of parents.

I tutor English to overprivileged children. Once a week, I show up at these beautiful houses looking like a shabby, modern day governess. Sometimes, after forty five minutes of trawling through long division and dictionary definitions, I like to spend the last quarter of an hour taking turns reading a book aloud.

Most primary schoolers are allocated twenty minutes of reading everyday by their teachers as part of their weekly homework. The majority would be lucky to devote this much time over an entire school term.  They’re bright and well spoken in real life, but when it comes to picking up a book, they turn into spoiled brats.

It’s boring. The words are hard. The stories are stupid. The students with this mindset are always the ones that have difficulty writing, spelling and understanding their assignments. The ones that can use the word “responsible” in conversation but stumble over it when reading out loud.

Occasionally, if you’re lucky, espousing the virtues of the power of the imagination works.  The other day, I donated a pile of my old books to one of my tutees. I’d spent a considerable amount of time picking which ones I thought she’d enjoy based on the small talk we’d make in between questions on punctuation and surface area. Her face lit up and she asked if we could read one of them straight away. It was troubling when she couldn’t pronounce some of the easier words, but I was so excited by her progress that I wanted to dance.

While having my own mini “O Captain! My captain!” moment was exhilarating, it also felt like it shouldn’t belong to me.

It should belong to the parents. Not the $22 an hour uni student.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 46% of Australians lack the literacy skills needed to handle everyday life. Yes, everyday life, not Proust or Joyce, or Kafka- the report lists examples like reading train timetables and understanding bills.

We can blame our time poor society. Or even technology. Facebook is taking over our lives and we all watch far too much television. Yawn. These are undeniably contributing factors. But it’s often more complicated than that.

If your family have books in the house, then you’ll probably read. But if they don’t, you won’t, and – if you let it –  the cycle continues.

Reading to and with your kid is not difficult. “Not being a big reader yourself” is not an excuse to settle for apathy.

You give your children love, shelter, food and security. You pay for their education. Why wouldn’t you provide them with the means to make the best of said education?

Stories aren’t just entertainment in themselves, they’re preparation for life.

How else are the kids going to know if the trains run on time?

Taylor Swift certainly isn’t going to tell them.


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