Message from Myers: Reading is NOT OPTIONAL

On January 10, noted YA author Walter Dean Myers will officially begin his two year term as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and while these kinds of titles usually seem completely useless to me, I’m pretty excited by Myers for one simple reason:

His passion is making sure that EVERY kid — especially those living in the kinds of tough circumstances that he grew up in — embraces reading.

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

Myers minces no words in this interview with Publisher’s Weekly. He writes:

“We all know we should eat right and we should exercise, but reading is treated as if it’s this wonderful adjunct…We’re still thinking in terms of enticing kids to read with a sports book or a book about war.

We’re suggesting that they’re missing something if they don’t read but, actually, we’re condemning kids to a lesser life.

If you had a sick patient, you would not try to entice them to take their medicine. You would tell them, ‘Take this or you’re going to die.’ We need to tell kids flat out: reading is not optional.”

Listen to those words, y’all.  Let them roll around in your mind for a few minutes.  Stew in them.  We ARE condemning kids to a lesser life when we turn the urgency of reading into an option.

But all too often — and especially for kids who grow up in families that don’t celebrate and model reading — that’s EXACTLY what we’re doing.

We’re convinced that simple incentive programs, or trendy genres like graphic novels, or finding just the right book, will EVENTUALLy hook reluctant readers, so we show foolish patience instead of attacking literacy struggles with a passion.

That kind of professional tap dancing around the truth is nothing but a waste of time — and I’m completely jazzed to see that we’ve finally got a spokesperson who is willing to say so.

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Related Radical Reads:

Real Men Read

The Unintended Consequences of Incentive Programs

Wondering (Worrying?) About Graphic Novels

 

 

Original Image Credit: Syringe by Andres Rueda

Licensed Creative Commons Attribution on January 6, 2011

5 thoughts on “Message from Myers: Reading is NOT OPTIONAL

  1. Susan

    BTW, ever noticed how other subjects don’t get this treatment?
    For example, how often do math teachers get told “don’t your 6th graders to learn multiplication and division, or else they’ll feel it’s a chore and never learn to love my math hobby like I do!”?
    Heck, even *chores* don’t get the “don’t require it or else they’ll think it’s a chore!!!” treatment. How many parents tiptoe around vacuuming, laundry, dishes, etc. because they fear that “if I *require* it then my kids won’t grow up to *love* to vacuum the rug, fold the laundry, wash the dishes!!!”?

  2. Susan

    Moreover, learning to read *paragraphs* is *not optional.*
    It’s good to be able to figure out the bits of text in comic book dialogue balloons and “know how to read a comic book page,” but it’s not *enough*.
    It’s especially not enough when the bus and train timetables, instruction manuals, simple contracts, etc. you need to read are *not* translated into “the grammar of comics” for you.

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Bob wrote:
    Build into the reading program reading books of interest, but that have significance is the broader scheme of things. Hook the student, but require something more of them so that they appreciate the value and power of being a reader.
    I think this is the tricky part, isn’t it Bob.
    Sometimes we get so hung up on the notion of enticing readers that we forget that there has to be something MORE than just enticing readers.
    It’s like parenting in general: I don’t beg and plead and hope that my daughter will go to bed at night.
    I require that she go to bed. She needs the sleep. She has no choice. I’ll take action if she’s still up long past her bed time.
    Why don’t we do the same for struggling readers?
    Interesting stuff,
    Bill

  4. Centerteach

    Could not agree more with Myers and you! We have to build the strutures, programs, and role modeling into our schools so that reading is not an option. I was talking with the principal of a local Charter School, who is concerned about this very issue. He pointed out to me that at this school there is no summer reading program. As a start, I encouraged him to begin that program as soon as possoble. Have authors come to the librrary for book readings. Build into the reading program reading books of interest, but that have significance is the broader scheme of things. Hook the student, but require something more of them so that they appreciate the value and power of being a reader.
    Thanks for the post!
    Bob

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