I learned recently that Ben Franklin didn’t think the 4th of July was a good choice of a date for celebrating our country’s independence. He thought the Declaration of Independence was a wonderful thing to assert of course, but he reflected that a better date for a holiday might coincide with the events that actually made that independence a reality. Consider the Treaty of Paris or the signing of the Constitution by the several states or the final acceptance of the Bill of Rights.
Independence is a truly wonderful thing. Think about where we as individual humans take our first steps toward independence and the sweet freedom they bring…and then think about when we might be said to fully arrive.
As infants there isn’t much we can do independently. Breathing, eating, sleeping and filling a diaper cover just about everything. But for those lucky infants whose parents read books to them and interact with them about the people, ideas and information found in those books, the seeds of personal independence are sown very early.
It is well documented that the reading of books provides a huge impetus for the development of a rich and varied mastery of language and thinking. Sharing and discussing books with trusted others is certainly helpful in creating a baby’s first a sense of separation from others, leading to the all-important egocentricity of youth, promoting and feeding curiosity and laying the ground work for an early sense of individual perspective.
I’m thinking that these personal developments sound like a wonderful foundation upon which to build personal independence.
So, with that starting place, when do we actually accomplish independence?
Once again, our country’s history and our individual reading and group discussions of a wide range of books help each of us to construct a personal world-view. That frame of reference is supported by a reservoir of information and opinion working together to establish, at least in some central way, our identities, and our personal qualities of leadership.
There’s independence for you.
But wait! What about children who aren’t read good books and who rarely converse about interesting events and new ideas with family and friends? What about those who never become readers?
We could do worse than to go back to Dr. Franklin, an early reader himself. He’s the man who started the first public library in America and our first post office. He invented the lightning rod and bifocals. He was an amazing talent. What if if this icon of independence, who was an early reader and writer, had not become the Renaissance man that he was, a true statesman, an orator, a confidant of heads of state? What if Ben weren’t a man who engaged people and ideas? Most importantly, what if he weren’t the reader of books that led to such a lofty level of scientific, social and political competence? What if he weren’t prepared to be an active participant in the conversations that created this country?
If we removed this truly literate man from our nation’s history, you can probably appreciate the hole that could have been left in the democracy we share and in the independence we enjoy.
The shortest road to ensure that our children are on the road to achieving true independence is through reading and sharing their responses to books that invite their thinking and that give them inspiration for participating in the lively public discussions of issues that we encounter each day… like Benjamin Franklin did!
Relevant books + early reading => conversation and personal Independence.
Happy Independence Day!