04 Mar Reading is Power
Throughout the course of human history many people have died fighting for or defending the right to educate themselves and their children. One of the greatest freedoms we currently have is the ability for everyone to receive an education. Even basic literacy skills were only taught to nobility or Church leaders for many generations.
Knowledge truly is power. With the ability to read and write a whole new world is opened up to us. We gain access to the greatest thinkers and teachers in human history, and are able to share our thoughts and opinions with others. There is nothing basic about literacy. It is a powerful force that can change the world. However, like any power, it can be used for good or evil. Take, for example, the life of Martin Luther the Protestant Revolutionary. He was a simple Augustinian monk who had little to no power or authority but because he was able to read and write he was able to call into question some abuses in the Catholic Church, and call for some much needed reform. Initially he wanted to reform the Church from within and to address some legitimate problems that had crept in due to a lack of education among the clergy, but over time his writings and teachings were influenced by Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, who wanted to spark a revolution and destroy the Church entirely. Luther, a German monk, was able to spark a revolution across Europe that led to numerous religious wars between Protestants and Catholics which eventually led to the Christian Church being splintered into over 40,000 denominations today. Luther, taking advantage of the recent inventions of the printing press and movable metal type, was able to write numerous treatises and spread them across Europe very quickly. Luther rarely left Germany but he was able to inspire revolutions across a whole continent from his home. This is the power of education. One man changed the course of human history through his ability to read and write.
Luther is not necessarily the best example of the power of education to transform the world because he used his power for selfish means, and tens of thousands of people died in the religious wars that followed. However, the point is still valid. One person who can read and write can shape the course of history whether for good or for evil.
One of the greatest tragedies of our modern world is that young people do not enjoy reading and writing. It is said that those who complete a university degree read an average of two books the rest of their lives. I cannot tell you the number of young people that I have talked to who tell me that they hate learning, or reading is boring, or writing is hard. These young people have been taught to despise learning because of the way they were taught to read and write in school. In schools today, I think, there is an overemphasis on literary analysis and creative writing projects. Reading books is only enjoyable when you have the freedom to choose what you read and can read it at your own pace. Allowing children in school this freedom would enable them to discover the joy of reading.
Before I went to university I loved to read. I was always reading something and it was, at times, difficult for my parents to get me to do my chores or other responsibilities at home because I was too busy reading. I stayed up late at night reading and stayed home on the weekends to read. The books that I read took me on many adventures and inspired a very creative imagination. Reading also got me through some tough times in life by enabling me to escape the problems of daily life and enter into the lives of the characters in the books. At university I was forced to read a lot of books in short periods of time and dissect the books through literary analysis and essay writing projects. The whole experience robbed me of the joy of reading because the books that were chosen to be part of the curriculum were meant to forward a particular agenda that I did not agree with. Reading became something that I had to force myself to do, because it felt like the authors were attacking my core beliefs.
To be clear, I am not against reading opposing points of view. I enjoy learning from people whose experiences have led them to different conclusions than my own, and it is only by engaging with different perspectives that we can grow and mature as persons, but some authors are not good writers and their opinions are not very well thought out. They seem to have arrived at their conclusion through anger or spitefully rejecting a particular point of view. I do not feel as though these authors are being academically honest because they are guided by their emotions more than their intellect.
In summary, my university experience robbed me of my joy in reading and writing. Ever since I graduated I have been slowly regaining my appreciation for both reading and writing but it is an ongoing process because there are still times when I am reading a book and I just get so overwhelmed because my mind begins to analyze the text for spelling and grammar errors and different literary devices to the point where I can no longer enjoy the story or the argument that the author is trying to make. I just need to walk away and read the book again later. This is just my experience of how school led me to a point where reading and writing was a chore and lost all joy.
I think my experiences are shared by a lot of people. Even elementary and secondary schools are focusing more and more on literary analysis and reporting, and they force students to select books from an ever smaller selection of books that usually does not include classic literature. Students should be encouraged to read great works by authors who show us the best that literature and human creativity can offer. Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and many many more. The works of these authors are classics for a reason. They are fascinating stories with complex characters and aim to teach readers principles and show how these principles are lived out in the real life situations of various characters. They are masterpieces that depict the best and worst that humanity has to offer. These works are agents of change because they allow readers to confront various characters who inspire them to lead better lives.
Education is a powerful tool for change. Hitler used to say “give me a child when he is 7, and he’s mine forever.” He used the power of education and a publicly funded school system to indoctrinate a generation of people with Nazi propaganda. The lesson here is that we must look closely at what our own government is teaching our children to ensure that the curriculum reflects the values which we adhere to as parents of our children. Recently there has been a push by the Ontario government to teach graphic sexual education to young children and many parents are pulling their kids out of schools in opposition to this social engineer project of the Wynne government. These parents have a right to pull their kids out of school because the school is no longer teaching children the values which the parents hold on to. The government has decided that they know better than parents what is best for the children to be learning. This is a dangerous position for a government to take as it because a stepping stone on the path to socialism which can lead to dictatorship and oppression of the people. We need to watch closely how the Ontario government moves forward with this issue and hold them accountable so that they remain a democratic government which rules according to the wishes of the people.
The Catholic Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of the children. In fact, it could be said that parents are neglecting their children if they are not intimately involved in educating them. This can be done by sending them to a public school, but it is still the parent’s responsibility to learn what the children are being taught in school, and to take steps to ensure that the school is teaching your kid in accordance with your wishes as a parent. The education we provide for our children directs the whole course of their lives. It is of the utmost importance that they discover the joy of reading and writing. We should make these activities fun by encouraging our children to read classic literature outside of school. Children should be encouraged to discover books that they enjoy. They can also learn to enjoy writing by having a diary or journal and we, as parents, can encourage them to write in it everyday.
We must also take the time to educate ourselves. This does not, necessarily, mean reading all the latest news headlines or magazines. These only help us to keep up with current events. If we want to educate ourselves we need to be reading the works of great writers. Read some classic novels just for fun or if you want to learn about particular subjects read from the works of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Father of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, the writings of the Popes, or for some more modern thinkers you could look at the works of Dr. Peter Kreeft, Christopher West, Michael O’Brien, or Scott Hahn. There are so many good books out there I am sure you can find some that you enjoy. Take the time to learn about topics that interests you. A good rule of thumb is to try and read for 10 minutes everyday. You will be amazed at how quickly you get through books and by committing to this you can set up a family culture that is centred around reading.
In the modern family our evenings are centred around TV and the internet. Netflix, Youtube and cable TV have are often the centre of our time together as a family. While it is good to kick back and relax sometimes, TV has been known to have negative consequences such as shortening attention spans and causing sleep disorders. To add to this there are very few TV shows that are uplifting and educational. Most shows are extremely violent, have crude humour and are hyper-sexualized. Reading a good book could be the antidote to our obsession with TV. Maybe make it a family rule that before the TV is turned on each family member needs to read a book for 10 minutes.
These are all just suggestions but I think that we, as a society, need to rediscover the joy of reading and writing, and stop taking our education for granted. Many of our ancestors would have given anything to have the education we have and we throw it all away. We do not invest ourselves in our education and want to get out of school as fast as we can. Part of the problem is that schools are no longer about education, but about social indoctrination, and thus have lost their appeal for most students. This is why governments have to pass laws to ensure the people stay in school until a certain age. Several centuries ago governments had laws saying that certain people could not go to school. It was reserved for the elite members of society and was used as a tool to oppress the masses. Now the masses are choosing to oppress themselves by taking their education for granted. Recent statistics show that even basic literacy skills are declining rapidly because children do not care about their education. TV and video games dominate the lives of our children and we are rapidly becoming an illiterate society again. The danger of this is that elitist members of our society, those who hold government and leadership positions, will continue to use education to indoctrinate our children with their own beliefs and perspectives, and we will not be able to counter this, because we gave up the freedom to educate ourselves by refusing to place value on reading and writing in our homes. The future of our families depends upon us taking the time to educate ourselves and to learn from the greatest minds in history. Only by doing this will we be able to discern between truth and lies which our government and leaders tell us. We need to guard our right to educate ourselves, and our children, and put more emphasis on reading in our homes, so that the power that the media has over us is diminished. I encourage you to commit to reading for 10 minutes each day.
Please visit our Resource Page if you would like some suggestions of books you can read. Please note this page has only a limited selection right now but check back often as we will continue to add books over time.