Kids Must Learn to Read and to Be Readers

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Images of Americans lined up to vote are all over the news and Internet. Being a literacy kind of guy, I’ve been searching those images to see if folks are reading during all of those hours of waiting.

Few look to be doing so. Every 20th person or so.

Most people are masked and just standing there, about six feet away from their fellow citizens, out of reach for even small talk.

There are lots of phones in the image–probably being used to chat with friends or to do business. Many people have fingers poised above the screen, at the ready. It’s possible some people are reading e-books on their phones, but I find it disturbing that there are NO bound BOOKS!

We have been teaching reading for centuries, using every possible means and most kids learn how to read, but not as well as if they really saw the personal possibilities in reading. Unlike Abraham Lincoln who had less than a year’s formal education and became a lawyer and our president, many kids just don’t connect reading to personal benefit.

These days I suppose we can teach pretty much everybody to read for meeting the basic demands of their lives, but how is it that the voters in the images, most of whom probably went through 12 years of schooling, don’t appear to be readers of fabulous BOOKS?

I mean if there is any purpose at all in the teaching of reading it is to position folks to use reading for their own purposes and needs, growing into and through adulthood, seeking out answers to their own questions, pursuing their unique curiosities.


  • Learning how to garden well and never growing anything…
  • Accomplishing how to weave and never sitting down at a loom…
  • Becoming a master chef and never sharing culinary creations with friends and family.

What a colossal wasting of energy to learn literacy that’s merely a quarter-inch deep. What lost potential and opportunity to fail to prepare kids to grow joyfully and deeply into their unique, lifelong, reading / learning lives!

Of course, just about everybody believes that children need to learn HOW to read. Okay, but the question is WHY? Shouldn’t we be teaching them WHY they should learn to read?

Learning to read is not merely for the purpose of checking off a box on a lock step path to a diploma and maybe a nice first job. School-wide assessments have some value, but they don’t cue teachers and loved ones about each kid’s aptitudes and attitudes. The purpose of assessments should be to provide personalized support and resources, for nurturing youngsters to grow into one-of-a-kind people who find their element, and to develop and use their personal talents.

We want them to read to pursue their personal fascinations, their dreams that cross the ever-expanding worlds of science, the unending lure of history or the universe, the unmeasurable complexities of exotic cultures, the stark, unquestionable power of mathematics, and every kind of hobby and pastime.

With 65 percent of American 4th graders still scoring at reading levels that are described as basic (or below!), few of them will become sufficiently proficient to advance even simple personal learning agendas, through lifelong reading and reflection.

Let’s start teaching children to be joyful readers and forever learners, then let’s watch the test scores soar.

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