Literacy, specifically in terms of the ability to read and write, is an essential part of one’s education. Reading is especially important as without being able able to read, one cannot hope to be able to write. One’s ability to read determines one’s ability to better perceive the world around them as the vast majority of our information is presented in a written format. Thus, the sooner one learns to read, the sooner one can begin to truly learn about the world they live in.
I was a rather fortunate child in this regard as I learned to read at a notably early age compared to most children. From as early as I could remember, my parents had been reading me stories which I would listen to with a sort of obsessive focus, which says a lot as I can rarely focus on any one thing for an extended period of time. By the time I was three years old, I was attending a preschool at which I was being taught how to read and write. We started with basic subjects like pronouncing letters and writing our names. While the teaching was effective, it seemed to move too slowly for young me as I craved more. As I was an ambitious child, I decided to teach myself to read. First, I had to find the right book. It had to have enough words to be challenging, while still being a relatively light read. I settled on one of my favorite dinosaur books. It was quite large with full page illustrations and a few sentences per page. It was perfect.
I set about my task in secret, not wanting to risk my parents offering their assistance. This was something that I knew had to be done entirely on my own. Each night, after going to bed, I would stay up for several minutes attempting to decipher the pages. I sat hunched over the book under my covers with a flashlight as to not disturb my brother nearby. The process was slow and arduous as each page took me several minutes to complete and I was constantly sidetracked by the illustrations. Still, I pressed onward, each page becoming slightly easier than the last. By the end of the fourth night, the book was finished. From then on, my reading quickly improved as I seemed to outpace the rest of the class. While others would play, I would find a spot to sit and read. Since then, I have always been at an advanced reading level. I don’t mean to brag, but this was extremely helpful in the earlier years of school.
Literacy is one of, if not the most valuable forms of cultural capital. The ability to read is necessary in society for finding and absorbing information. It allows one to learn independently as they can seek out information without the need for someone to explain it to them. However, if one is deprived of this ability, than they lose a great deal of their independence and makes them much easier to control. For example, slaves were absolutely forbidden from reading or writing as keeping them illiterate made them incapable of arguing for their rights. While a slave could find evidence of the wrongfulness and immorality of their enslavement, they would never be able to because they weren’t capable of obtaining that information. All they knew was what was told to them by their masters, who used this to better control them. This is how Frederick Douglas managed to escape slavery because he taught himself how to read and write. Similarly, in the segregation era, black schools were deprived of resources in order to better control the students. Without being told about the importance of literacy, many of these children never pursued it later in life and so never developed the skill further. In The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, Christopher Myers states “As for children of color, they recognize the boundaries being imposed upon their imaginations, and are certain to imagine themselves well within the borders they are offered, to color themselves inside the lines.” When it comes to children’s literature, books for children of color simply aren’t published. This indirectly deprives them of a way to improve their own literacy skills and, by extension, their knowledge of the world around them.
While literacy has always been an essential life skill, its importance hasn’t been stressed until quite recently. People are only just beginning to realize how much one’s literacy skill determines and what they can do to improve. Hopefully, people can have more access to literacy instruction in order to close a gap that has existed in society for centuries.
Works CitedMeyers, Christopher. "The Apartheid of Children’s Literature." New York Times. N.p., 15 Mar. 2014. Web.