The Importance of Being Literate

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When I began college, I knew that I was going to be an English major. I was told that I would change my major because everyone does, and I replied, “No, I won’t.” And I didn’t. A) There wasn’t anything else I wanted to major in, B) I loved—and still do—the study of all things English, and C) I like to be different and refuse to do something just because it is “the norm.” Choosing to major in English is not an easy decision, but it is a decision that I am grateful to have made. Why am I saying all of this? I’m giving you a little backstory so that you know why I am so passionate about my degree, reading, and writing.

In a world where nearly everyone one you see is on his or her smartphone (in the mall, on the road, even at dinner with family), it seems like fewer and fewer people are making time to read. I see children playing games on their parents’ iPads and iPhones before they can even speak in sentences. What is happening to our world? Technology is taking over, that’s part of it. I wrote a research essay in 2012 titled, “Technology and Reading: a Beneficial Bond or an Unfavorable Union?” In it, I discuss the reading statistics that have come with e-readers and e-books. Here is an excerpt:

While e-book sales may continue to rise, research done by the Pew Research Center shows that “print books still dominate” as the most read format (Rainie et al 19). But an obvious change is occurring. In June of 2010, 95% of adult readers were reading print and only 4% were reading e-books; however, as of December 2011, the print readers had dropped to 84% and the e-book readers had risen to 15% (24). Furthermore, it would seem that e-readers actually encourage more reading. “Those who read e-books report they have read more books in all formats. They reported an average of 24 books in the previous 12 months and had a median of 13 books. Those who do not read e-books say they averaged 15 books in the previous year and the median was 6 books” (3). Despite these encouraging numbers, the number of people who do not read continues to increase. The rate has changed from 13% in 2001 to 19% in 2011, suggesting that the e-reader may only have clout with people who already read (19). Nevertheless, these findings indicate that e-readers have, in fact, inspired readers to read more, which is certainly a benefit that the e-book technology has brought about.

Yes, people who read may be reading more, but more people are not reading at all. You might ask, “Who cares? So what if I don’t read? I can’t discuss the latest Stephen King, but what is so important about that?” Well, let me tell you.

A few years ago, a professor gave me an article that for the life of me I couldn’t remember the title of. I had to pull out my college files to find it, searched folder after folder, but I found it! I have it in printed form minus page numbers, but here is a link to an online version (also without page numbers, which isn’t very helpful, especially since I want to cite properly). Published in The New Yorker, “Twilight of the Books” by Caleb Crain opens by asking, “What will life be like if people stop reading?” (134). It will not be pleasant, I assure you. People may thinking reading is a waste of time and effort, but, at the end, Crain says this: “readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence” (138). In short, readers tend to be more well-rounded than non-readers.

And I cannot begin to express the importance of reading for children. When I was a child, I loved reading so much (I know, shocker) that I was determined to learn how to read myself so that I could read even more. And I did. I knew how to read before Kindergarten. The little boys I babysit make my day every time I’m with them. Sure, they like to play, but we spend most of our time sitting on the couch reading book after book after book. If children don’t read, how will they grow their imaginations? Imaginations that fuel creativity? In a blog post that Grammarly recently released on promoting literacy, some statistics were given regarding low literacy in adults. Low literacy in adults can come to an end if we instill the desire to read in children.

As for writing, being able to write is an invaluable skill. I find errors in books, articles, on websites, etc almost daily. I know that we are human and make mistakes, but these are simple errors that probably wouldn’t happen if English majors were involved (just sayin’). There are so many times that I receive an email that is full of errors and not only reflects badly on the writer, but also makes the employer look questionable in hiring skills and training. I came across a post a few months ago, and it really stuck with me. “Why I Hire English Majors”—just the title makes my heart beat faster. Nearly every job listing I see requires writing ability. So, don’t think English and writing aren’t important because YOU WILL ALWAYS NEED TO WRITE. You write emails, Facebook posts (don’t get me started), text messages, shopping lists, memos, notes for your children, etc. As long as we continue to communicate with others in a non-verbal manner (which seems to be the most prevalent), we will be in need of writing skills. Typo on your resume? Kiss that job goodbye. Vice versa, as long as we write, we will be reading something!

I feel like I’ve been on this soapbox for some time now, so let me conclude by saying that I don’t want to live in a world where we don’t read and don’t write because I want to live in a good world. Will you join me?

You, too, can contribute to the promotion of literacy. Spread the word, bloggers. Grammarly will donate to a literacy charity of your choice if you blog about literacy and good writing skills, share their post about promoting literacy, and send an email with the link to your post and the name of your selected charity to
promoteliteracy@grammarly.com.

Be sure to visit www.grammarly.com and try out their Grammar Checker!

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