My first memory of literacy has to be lying in bed and listening to my mother read to my older brother and me. I remember she read us Mr.Popper’s Penguins and the Boxcar Children. This was not something she did all the time, but a special treat and I loved it. Unfortunately I don’t think I associated it with reading, but it did build a strong foundation in me for storytelling. Later my grandmother took a keen interest in promoting literacy in my life. She would babysit me once a week before I started kindergarten. I remember her talking about phonics and that she was really serious about it, but I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought she was kind of crazy. Then she came with these workbooks like the kinds you might use in school. I have no idea where she got them but she would go though a lesson with me and then make me complete the questions in the book. I didn’t particularly enjoy the process and might complain but I always did it. I understood that her and my mother did these things because they wanted me to learn to read but I didn’t really care, I just liked hearing stories.
I do not remember my mother and father reading for pleasure when I was growing up. I think my mom may have read at nights after I was in bed, but I never saw it. We had lots of books in the house but I guess I just saw them as the toys I rarely played with. Once I had learned to read I associated it with school and work, why would I want to read about some green eggs and ham when I could go play in the woods behind my house? We would go the library once a week in the summer and I remember really liking Garfield books. I liked them because they were easy to read but thick so I felt like I was reading a lot. I knew it wasn’t the same as a normal book but I felt like I had found this loophole in reading, like I had beat the system. As I began to compare my literacy skills with my friends at school I soon realized that while I could read well I was slower then almost everyone in my classroom. However this never really bothered me. I was always the last one done with a test (a trend that carried all the way to college), but my grades were ok so I didn’t care.
I feel literacy is far more important today then I did growing up. The first thing that began this shift was a professor. He was awesome, easily the smartest person I had ever met. He constantly quoted books and would tell us what he was currently reading. I wanted to be like this guy. It was very clear to me that he had gotten to where he was by reading a lot of books. He didn’t just read them; he remembered them and incorporated what they taught him into his daily life, I had never seen this before. I remembered he would say, “my dead friends taught me that….” referring to the authors who had already passed away. I also had a mentor who would say “readers are leaders” and he was the first non-academic I remember knowing who read lots of books. He is an uncommonly wise person and I believe his habit of reading everyday is one of the major reasons why.
The other way that literacy has impacted my life is spiritually. I am a Christian and value reading scripture. This value is something I have learned from personal experience. I can tell a difference in my life when I step away from this practice. This daily activity helps keep my mind centered and is one of many things that I believe builds and more importantly maintains my personal spiritual relationship. This is also the place where all of my literary skills most often combine. The bible is a complex and multi layered collection of books. It was written in a culture and a context that is different then mine and is at times confusing to me. Two people can read the same passage and pull conflicting meanings out of it. However the more I study it and dig deeper into it, the richer it becomes and the closer I feel to God. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience but this is very real to me.
As I step back and look at my life I now know literacy is more then just reading. I use these skills every day from carefully crafted email I send at customers or in writing this post. Literacy has informed me about the world and connected me to it. I love discussing and debating, but without the collective knowledge assessable through written word and the skill to understand and explain that knowledge, I am just my opinion. However with that knowledge behind me I can be more. I can an idea or movement. I can read words on a page and tell you their meaning, but in my opinion literacy extends beyond that. It is how we squeeze the maximum amount out of those words and how to we craft our own words to truly express ourselves.