The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 15, 2013

The best habit a child can develop is that of reading

Point Blank

By John Blankenship
Columnist

— The best habit a child can develop is that of reading.

And though we live in a world that offers myriad distractions and diversions, we as a nation cannot afford to lose sight of a fundamental educational value: reading.

It is no great revelation that the printed word is the most remarkable creation of man. More books are being published today than ever before, despite the popularity of TV and the Internet.

The world of books has never been so vast and so available — either in bookstores or online.

Hard-bound copies of the most expensive kind, when first published, can now be purchased on the Web for literally pennies on the dollar of the dust-jacket price.

Ideas printed in books will last as long as there are people on this planet.

And yet, each year an estimated 1 million teenagers drop out of high school (a third of U.S. dropouts never reach the 10th grade).

Despite being the wealthiest nation on earth, America maintains a public education system in which 30 percent of high school students don’t graduate.

One out of every four reads below basic grade levels, and compared to students from more affluent backgrounds, few of their low-income counterparts are adequately prepared for college.

Part of the reason for so many failures is that students are tired of struggling with words they simply cannot comprehend.

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Mark Twain once said that the person who can read and doesn’t is no better off than the person who cannot read at all.

Even some of the brightest students of our generation would rather take a beating than read a novel by one of the world’s classic authors.

Reading assignments are viewed by teenagers as a kind of punishment doled out by teachers who merely want to annoy their students.

It’s amazing just how many kids graduating from high school boast of never having read a single book during their four-year term.

Even the most resplendent educational structures will gradually be eroded by the sands of time and will vanish from the earthly scene.

Monuments will crumble and fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die, and after an era of darkness, future generations will build others.

But the great minds of human history will live on, still young, still fresh as the day they were written, still telling of the hearts of men centuries dead.

Therefore, the failure of the national educational system to help students improve their reading skills on the secondary level is a crime.

Perhaps Congress, under the current administration, will be ready to move with money in the direction of hiring reading specialists who might help accomplish this goal.

But if the money is spent on bureaucratic salaries on the state and local level, nothing will ever come of such a valuable program. The classroom, after all, is the center of the educational universe, not the cubicles and offices of administrators.

In the meantime, failure of our country to help kids improve their reading skills throughout the entire 13 years of schooling is to guarantee trouble tomorrow.

We only have to look back to the era of World War II to find the indelible proof of the havoc created by neglect of adequate universal education. Seeking healthy, educated men for the fortress of freedom, we found vast numbers who were academically disadvantaged.

The military was then forced to establish emergency schools in camps throughout the country, where more than 380,000 functionally illiterate soldiers had to be taught to read.

If we are looking to revitalize and reform public education, it might be a good idea to start with developing sound reading programs on the high school level. If we can teach kids the skills to make money for industry, we should at least be able to help them learn to read.

Who knows, the students might become better employees and citizens in the process.

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net