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The privilege of literacy

My friend ask me how I was liking the book I was reading while lounging in the hammock around the campfire.

“Not that great,” I answered. “Actually, I’m trying to hurry up and finish it because I kind of hate it.”

“Why don’t you just stop reading it?”

The slang for this in the BookTok/Bookstagram world is “DNF,” standing for Did Not Finish. When a book is so bad you “DNF it.” But there has only been one book that I DNFed because I can’t bring myself to quit a book I started. So even if I hate the book, I see it through. Reading is a luxury that I haven’t always had.

When talking about community development in my full-time job, the third-grade reading level is often brought up. Many use third-grade reading proficiency as an indicator of a child’s success in the future. So therefore if most of the children in your community are not proficient in reading at the end of third grade, your community may suffer in the future.

Some community developers even go as far as to say that if children are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade, they are more likely to end up in prison. While researching this it occurred to me that I wasn’t proficient in reading at the end of third grade.

In fact, it wasn’t until the end of third grade that I could actually see the words on the page. The problem I had was that I was farsighted and didn’t know it. This was before school gave children eye screenings, and I had no idea I was seeing things wrong. When I finally got glasses, I had more than a +3 prescription.

So after third grade, I was put in remedial reading classes with the English as a second language students to catch up. I stayed after school. And at home, my grandmother, a retired teacher, worked with me. My amazing support system made sure I didn’t fall through the cracks and take a road that would, maybe, end in prison.

After third grade, I still struggled. English was my least favorite subject. It felt like it took me forever to get through the required reading. I never finished a book. My music teacher pointed out I had problems reading the notes on the page too. Apparently, I don’t read ahead which made me clumsy when it came time to turn the page.

If you would have told me in high school I would go on to college to major in journalism and minor in English, I would have laughed. But as I got older, I read more and more. And by the end of college, I loved reading and writing. Most of all I love stories.

I often think about how my life could have been different. How without my family and good school, I might have missed out on so many good stories. And I think when you are privileged with something, you should share that. For me, it’s volunteering with the Literacy Council in my town.

This is a way I can help adults who were once third-graders like me but did not have the support system that I did. Am I changing the world? No. Am I even changing my community? Not really. But I am helping change one person.

And every time I push to finish a book that I hate, I’m telling the child that I once was and that she can do way more than she ever imagined.

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