Good mentors, good books and how to not take literacy for granted
This week on Katelyn’s article, we are going to take a peek into her past. Specifically elementary and middle school, which were flattering, let me tell you. Well, not really, but what I want to talk about is reading. Shockingly enough I have not always been the social butterfly you all know and love, but hey, what is college for but reinvention? No, as a kid I was not good with people; I was like a verbal cheerleader, berating people with my volume and harsh opinions when, honestly, everyone was already awkward enough without me calling them out.
So I turned to reading. It started in first grade with “Stone Fox,” by John Reynolds Gardiner, and from then on it was out of control: “Sarah, Plain and Tall,” “Harry Potter,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe,” “Watership Down,” “Emma,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Saddle Club,” and so on until I had to go to a different library.
Fun fact time: I am also incredibly competitive. In fifth grade we had this thing called AR, or Accelerated Reading, where you took a placement test that gave you a certain set of reading levels to read within, and then points were assigned to books. Based on your reading level you also had to earn points; the higher your levels, the more points. While yes, I won, I was also rewarded for something I was finally good at, and it definitely encouraged me to do more. Beyond that, the system encouraged teachers to engage with students individually based on their monitored performances.
Why am I telling all of you this? Because this weekend I had two very polarizing experiences with reading. The first and happiest was a little girl at a gas station reaching decibels I had never heard over her excitement to read the third and fourth Harry Potter books. The other was a claim by a small boy’s dad, who said his son will only read if they pay him.
Cue heart-breaking look in my eyes and a string ensemble playing a compilation of sad Avril Lavigne music. My mind could not wrap itself around the idea that someone hated reading, because for me it was such a necessary part of my childhood. I needed to read because it was going to a world of friends and lives in which I could participate without leaving the flashlight-lit bed fort I had built.
The United States has an illiteracy rate of 14 percent, which means 14 percent of adults cannot read at all, according to the Department of Education. 21 percent read at a fifth grade level, and 19 percent of recent high school grads are also illiterate. Many people would say technology has something to do with this, or that movies and Facebook and twitter have created a day and age where reading is not as important, but no. These rates of illiteracy have been completely stagnant over the past 10 years according to the department. Libraries across the country are being shut down because of lack of funds to purchase new, diverse material.
Not only have those numbers stayed stagnant, the levels of gifted readers has declined over the past 10 years, which means that based on the standardized tests, the kids testing into the 80-90th percentiles are significantly fewer than they have been. According to the department, we have about 18 percent fewer “gifted readers” than we did in 2003. This could be attributed to many factors, but I think of myself and know that had there not been someone interested in me and what I was reading, the healthy habit likely would have died.
While all of this seems a bit random, most of you are going home to the national food coma festivities, which means all seven of your kid cousins are going to come screaming toward you because you are the “cool older cousin.” Exciting, right? How much cooler would that moment be if you were to ask them what books they read in school, or if you shared a favorite book of yours with them? Beyond that, I know most of us do not live in giant houses, so if you have some books that are gathering dust or are just there to impress people, why not donate them to a library? Because honestly, having fun is not hard when you have a library card.
Katelyn Henagin graduated from Pierz-Healy High School in 2010, and grew up in both Pierz and Worthington, Minnesota. She is graduating in 2014 with a Philosophy Major and a minor in Psychology. If you feel like talking to Katelyn, striking up a conversation about Harry Potter is always a good choice.