By Vincent L. Hall
A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. —Abraham Lincoln
When I was young and thought I knew it all, mama had a verbal antidote for my bad case of arrogance. “Son, there’s enough you don’t know to start a whole new world and not miss much.” Say what? Yo’ mama said that too? That’s Black mothers for ya. If you can read any of the words that preceded this paragraph, you will understand how rich part three of this Back2Skool series is. After you teach your children the five-finger prayer and teach them to count, you must teach your child to read. Reading does not come from mere socialization or osmosis, children must be taught to read. If a child calls you mama or daddy, that’s your job. Scientists these days say that you should start the process while your spawn is still in the womb. To my knowledge, no one can remember what was read to them when their mother was eight months pregnant, but I remember when reading became vital to me. At some age, my mother began to read The Night Before Christmas as a ritual during the yuletide season. She had to read it to me every night.
There was something about her inflection, emotions, and the connectivity with the pictures that gave me a burning desire to read. “And Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap, had just settled down. To a long winter’s nap—When out on the lawn. There arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to …” Your children will give up television if you engage their hearts and mind in a manuscript. Your child should learn to read, read aloud, and eventually convincingly. One paragraph on greatschools.org paralleled my experience as a father, coworker, and teacher. “But in many schools, in all kinds of neighborhoods, there is a shockingly large chunk of kids—about one in three—who don’t master the skills they need to learn to read in a sophisticated way. Their road is difficult: although many will try to use their intelligence to cover the holes in their skill set, as the work gets harder and the reading grows more complex, these children will find they are unable to keep up.”
This caught me because I have learned that the smartest people in the world don’t lead it. Often those that sound or appear most intelligent get more credit than they deserve. Knowledge and communication skills don’t come in pairs or sets. The CEO of any major corporation is usually the socialized one and rarely the smartest one. To survive in this culture, your child must master reading. Comprehension pays the bills; communication skills buy the Bentleys. There is a wealth of ideas and concepts about when and how to teach your child to read. You can start or restart the mission at any age, but the younger, the better. The world that has been discovered by others is vast and extraordinary. The knowledge of the ages is available to your child. Your job is to build the capacity and taste for reading. Abraham Lincoln gets credit for freeing slaves from their masters. But the most incredible freedom slaves were ever given is the freedom to read. Reading was illegal to our people for a reason.
“Fearing that black literacy would prove a threat to the slave system—which relied on slaves’ dependence on masters—whites in many colonies instituted laws forbidding slaves to learn to read or write and making it a crime for others to teach them.” —William Goodell, Activist, and Abolitionist
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and award-winning columnist.