Reading is the gateway to knowledge. Without refined reading skills, personal independence and options are severely limited. Poor readers can only know what others choose to tell them. Poor readers have limited socio-economic opportunities. This ramifications of an increasingly illiterate society are compounding as knowledge compounds at an exponentially rapid rate.
The ability to read well increases the freedom and self-determination of the individual. Nineteenth Century American slaveholders understood this concept well. By 1850, each of the fifteen slaveholding states had enacted laws that criminalized reading instruction to slaves. Slaveholders found out through experience that the ability to read opened up the world of knowledge, individual choice, and aspiration to a better life—all dangerous challenges to authoritarian control. In the Twentieth Century, the Nazis came to power, burning books and harassing those who thought differently then their party. Once their power solidified, concentrated efforts were made to control and manipulate the reading of school children and the masses. The communists in the Soviet Union altered textbooks to reflect their view of history and sent authors to Siberia for re-education. In the Twenty-First Century, economic problems have provided the pretext for closing public or school libraries, considering limits to the freedom of thought via Internet censorship or taxation, and limiting the capital acquisition of small publishing companies which has forced many into bankruptcy—thus solidifying the conglomerate power of the largest publishing houses, whose agenda consists of money-making and preserving the status quo.
In this information age, the ability to read well is an increasingly essential skill. The negative consequences of limited reading ability are numerous. For example, identifying a phishing email requires higher order critical reading skills to read between the lines and recognize non-sequiturs, unsupported generalizations, and questionable authority errors in reasoning. Reading and applying the Schedule A instructions for allowable deductions on the 1040 form requires content-specific vocabulary. Reading how to program a new flat screen HD television requires advanced technical reading ability. A limited reader could wind up with a bank account depleted, an audit, or a large paperweight.
Today, we need to see advanced reading instruction as a bulwark against an increasingly illiterate society. What was an adequate reading skill level thirty years ago is inadequate today. More higher level high school and college reading courses are needed to appropriately prepare students for the information age.
Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight to adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. With multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games (364 pages), even novice reading teachers and para-professionals will be able to use these user-friendly resources to effectively differentiate reading instruction with minimal preparation.