I was three-going-on-four when my father, the high school English teacher, started reading “The Hobbit” to me before I went to bed. I’d apparently already started to show some reading potential and he used Tolkien to help foster it. I was completely hooked in no time at all. To be fair, I don’t remember too much of the boring song and poetry part in the middle, but the dwarves, spiders, elves and dragons sucked me in big time. By the time we’d made it half way through the book my sneaky dad had me swapping reading duties with him.
When we finished “The Hobbit”, we moved on to Hemmingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and, at the end of that, he emancipated me with the LOTR trilogy and told me I was on my own. I subsequently missed children’s lit altogether, a gross omission which I rectified in second year university by taking a whole semester on the topic, but that’s beside the point. The point is, I was taught to read at an early age, and then pointed at some really good stories to fuel my growing addiction.
My dad and I have had our differences over the years, but I’ve never been anything but monumentally appreciative for that gift. How could I not be?
Words and language unlock what might be, provide pathways into which we can drag our generation and usher the next, paths that lead to opportunity and revelation, to wisdom and discovery and empathy.
Literacy is the key to all of that. A world that can read and write is a world that can learn. In a world where literacy was ubiquitous everyone could learn. Ignorance could be banished to a minority opinion. Those who use ignorance to manipulate and control would be threatened unto extinction.
Can you imagine that? And to start, all we need to do is make it a priority to teach everyone to read. Compared to world peace, or sending people to the moon, or so may other projects that are important, this one seems relatively easy. We have, as they say, the means to slam dunk this one.
And yet we don’t.
Give a man a fish, they say, and feed him for a day. Teach a man to read, though, and he can find a book to teach him how to fish, and he’ll be fed for life. Hand him a computer and he can Google a helluva lot more than that.
And that’s probably the reason that the governments of the world don’t want us all to be able to read. An ignorant populace is a complacent one.
I will never, ever be able to thank my dad enough for the gift he gave me back when I was too small to appreciate it. He planted a seed and let it grow.
It would be wonderful if we could give that gift to everyone and see what would grow out of it.
September 8 is World Literacy Day. Give the gift, or support someone else who is.