Thursday, May 20, 2010

Intentionally Illiterate

I ran across the following deep thoughts penned by Ronnica of The Ignorant Historian and they got me to thinking:

I’m a reader.  In part because I was raised a reader (thanks, Mom!). In part because I love learning. And in part because I enjoy spending the time alone.  I feel very blessed with knowing how to read. Whole worlds are open to me, only because I can make sense of the symbols on a page. I’ve learned and been challenged in what I believe because I can read.  So you know what really bugs me?  When people choose not to read.

I don’t mean those that can’t read, whether from lack of opportunities to learn, lack of material to read, or learning disabilities. And I don’t mean those who are in a time of life where they can’t read what they want, like young mothers or students (though anyone can find a few minutes to read here and thereit took me 6 months to read Gone with the Wind in college, but I did it).
I mean those who were taught how to read, but haven’t taken advantage of it.
We hear so much about the illiteracy rates in America and around the world - illiteracy based on poverty, conflict or disabilities - but no one talks about those who choose to ignore the gift once it is given them. To us, intentional illiteracy is a crime that ranks up there with book burning, desecrating the flag, parking lots with no spaces for mothers of small children...

This has been an ongoing discussion in our household because we somehow raised a non-reader.  With two parents who read daily, I'm not sure how this happened, but it did.  We have an incredibly bright, creative and animated daughter (and we're not a bit biased), but she won't read a book under threat of law, teachers or disconnection of her cell phone.

 What is it that makes some people love reading and others not?  Is there a genetic connection?  Our household certainly wouldn't uphold that theory.  Is it nurture rather than nature?  We exposed both of our kids to books and reading from birth and they both loved to be read to in their toddler years.  We took them to libraries and bought books from every school flier and book sale.  What makes our Little Missy choose to be illiterate?

Ronnica closed her post with this thought:  If you’re numbered among the intentionally illiterate, what would get you to read?  Would Dear Daughter read if she were cut off from Facebook, texting, tv and instant messaging?  My mother has none of those things except tv and watches very little of it, yet she never picks up a book. 

 I consider the ability to read as one of the greatest gifts I have received and the loss of that gift to age or illness as one of my greatest fears.  Books are my friends, my escape, my consolation and my joy.  How can someone choose not to have that?  If you were expecting astute answers to all these questions, sorry to disappoint.  But I would love to hear your thoughts.

 Thanks to Ronnica for stirring up my thought process and for her permission to share her insights here.


  1. I think that if someone is forced to read, it can actually have the opposite result. Somehow, books have to be found that the intentionally-illiterate person in question can't help but read. Now THAT'S tricky.

  2. My sister used to hate to read. I think it was mostly in part because she couldn't pay attention long enough to read. She is a very active, social person. She isn't one to sit down and read something or sit down for much of anything. Now she has discovered the Twilight books and can read those pretty quickly. She has always been somewhat of a slow reader I think that's also part of why she didn't enjoy reading. Just my two cents. I also came from a family of readers. My parents both read and I used to stay up all night reading.

  3. I loved you tribute to mom about your love for reading. I 've noted that more and more bloggers seem to enjoy spending time alone. Are we ALL introverts...LOL?

  4. I read this post yesterday and then stopped to really think about it. It is a subject very close to my heart as well. I absolutely agree with your last paragraph. I am so very grateful for this gift. The best thing about my mom's dementia is that she still loves to read.

    Both my husband and I love to read and both sides of our two families were and are big readers. The only one I worried about was my youngest daughter. Part of her problem started in childhood when she had a slight learning disability. The other side came in adolescence when anything someone else wanted her to do was the very thing she wasn't going to do. She struggled to create her own identity. She was determined to be her own person.

    Once we finally let go (and let her make a few mistakes) she did come into her own. In her twenties she started reading fantasy, sci-fi, etc. - stuff I wouldn't go near. In her late twenties she picked up a couple of my romance novels and she hasn't stopped reading them. Her range of books is wide and we even share a few we like. (Last year she and I did a joint blog post or two.) She averages two to four books a week.

    I told you all that to say that your daughter has a long way to go before you can consider her an intentional illiterate. When she is on her own for a while and making all of her own choices, then look at her reading again. I'd say give her until she's about 35. Then see what she chooses.

    The intentional illiterates that bother me are the fully grown adults who choose to read nothing. No news, no magazines, no books - nothing. Their brains are not exercised at all. And, I think it's criminal if those people are also parents. How does that affect the future of our society if their brains are all mush and they set that example for their children? Okay, enough for my pet rant. I thank you for raising the issue. It's a concern of mine too.

  5. I figure that a life without books is like a pot of beans without seasoning. I've always been a reader and I can't imagine 'not' enjoying the places that a good book can take you.
    I love JD Robbs "Death" series (set in the future), and I always have them on order from Amazon, long before they're even released. :)

    I'm a family daycare provider/educator, and I've found that sitting down with a book of my own while the children are playing, get's them interested as well... so they head off to the bookshelf, sit down,turn pages and ask me what this story is about.
    I also read to them a LOT, but I usually choose books that focus on words, rather than just pictures, and discuss why the girl did that to her friend, or what the boy was thinking when he put the snail in his pocket.

    We occasionally use picture books, but usually make up our 'own' stories, and I write it down for them to keep. It's great to see how different children can put a totally different spin on the same pictures, and it's great too, to see that 3 and 4 yr olds can enjoy 'reading'.

    One of my older daycare kids recently won an award at school for "most books read in a month" (12!) - and she credited her love of reading to me!