Literacy is more than you think

When we were students, most of our time was spent reading and writing. Young students are potential incarnate, and thus only the most fundamental of skills is the one that is focused on the most, which is, as I mentioned earlier, the art of reading and writing.

When I was in high school, I thought that the emphasis on instilling in students the habit of reading was excessive, and that more tactile skills should be taught with a similar sense of urgency. After all, when students graduate, the “real world” will require them to know a little bit of household, car, and physical health maintenance. However, school would focus on getting students ready for state mandated standardized tests that would affect funding as well as how the school was run. I was sure that the emphasis on vocabulary building, reading skills, and writing was just so that the school could gather more funds, and that they were not really concerned on what students really needed to know.

To a certain degree, I was right, but what was also true is that reading and writing are indeed the fundamentals to acquiring skills in almost any field. It makes sense, then, that at the very least a high school graduate should have strong reading and writing skills, so that those may be used to become proficient in any career field he or she may decide to adopt.

In modern days, however, social media has presented us with novel forms of entertainment that minimizes the time we can spend harnessing our reading and writing skills. If there’s a viral video of a person trying to dance to the latest pop song, and the video has suggestions to other videos that will eat up our time, will people really go out of their way to pick up a book?

I fear that our society in general is becoming less literate. Judging by the word choice of modern politicians, movie scripts, and pop songs, it could be that modern society’s vocabulary has become more simple. Although technology is greater than ever before, at the same time I feel that literacy is generally lower than even a few decades ago, and by extension, the general IQ seems to have gone down. The ability to focus, our attention spans, and our ability for delayed gratification are only getting shorter, and I think that eventually it will have an impact in our standard of living.

Among many things, therefore, I think that honing our literacy skills is important. We must get into the habit of reading various books per year. But which books?

In my opinion, we must engage reading with our personal goals. For example, if you have ever wanted to learn to play a musical instrument or to sing, I would encourage you to read a book on musical notation. Musical notation is literature for music, and just by knowing it, it will be much easier to learn to play a musical instrument and to learn to sing should you decide to take classes or personal training sessions on that topic.

If you have wanted to set up a personal garden, read a book on gardening.

If you want to lose weight, read a book on dieting.

You get the picture.

Even if you don’t end up following all the recommendations of your chosen book, at least you will have the theory within you. By reading about your personal goals, you will be more prepared for them, and by extension, more likely to succeed. Even before you become proficient in your chosen goal through practice, having the theory will give you the vocabulary to join the discourse community in that field, and you will be able to talk to people who have mastered your chosen hobby in a way that you will be understood most clearly. For example, if you want to learn more about computers, it would help to know technical terms such as Graphical User Interface, Command Line Interface, Operating System, Application, Software, and Hardware, instead of asking for help saying “You know, the thing that pops up when you click on the mouse.” This goes against the school of thought that would suggest that reading should be done for pleasure and only for aesthetic reasons. Although there is a time and a place for that, I love the didactic nature of reading and writing, and if harnessed just right, it can be “empowering” in a genuine sense, not in the cliché sense that pop culture has watered down that word to be. So if you made it to the end of this article, please consider reading another, and in general, spend more time with a book of your choosing for the purpose of reaching a long held personal goal. Good luck.

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