August 25, 2017

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.”

 –Kofi Annan, Ghanaian diplomat, former secretary general of the U.N.

Why do we read? What is the importance of reading? Our first thoughts may be “for pleasure, for information.” These questions, however, beg a deeper answer, I believe.

Kathleen Rauth

As we look at the history of our nation and of communities across the globe, we see that access to education has been a catalyst for engagement in the power structures around the world. When you limit a group’s ability to read and write, you remove from their lives a tool which gives them a deeper understanding of their place in the world and a shared experience of what it means to be human. Author C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone.” 

Helping our students understand that there are individuals in all countries taking extraordinary measures to bring books into the hands of children can be a powerful opportunity to connect them to the importance of reading in their own lives. Thankfully, there are many books and websites that help our children understand the history of these efforts and also those activists who are working now to get books into the hands of children everywhere.

If you want to start with history, you may wish to look at the accounts of the burning of the great Library of Alexandria, Egypt. Book burnings have impacted all corners of our world. Mental Floss has a great article that highlights 11 book burning stories. Talk with your children and young adults about what was lost with each one of these events. Also look at how the youth of Alexandria protected their new library when they feared it might be under attack again.

Your next step might be to look at the rich history of the libraries of Timbuktu, Mali, and how one man’s efforts became the catalyst for the preservation of these bastions of knowledge.

As you move forward in time, you can explore the efforts of individuals who have helped to increase literacy rates in their communities. The following books would be great jumping off points for these explorations:

  • “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban,” by Malala Yousafzai.
  • “Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq,” by Mark Alan Stamaty.
  • “Waiting for the Biblioburro,” by Monica Brown.
  • “Librarian on the Roof! A True Story,” by M.G. King and Stephen Gilpin.
  • “My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World,” by Margriet Ruurs.
  • “Steamboat School,” by Deborah Hopkinson.

Perhaps you would like to do some fundraising for children in need, but tie it to reading in your own lives. There are countless organizations raising funds and materials through community and religious groups in the area. Here are three links to national organizations you might want to investigate:

Some of my colleagues at Indianapolis Public Schools have put their concerns for world literacy into direct action and formed Heart in Education Teacher Outreach (HETO). Each year, Indianapolis teachers bring resources and training to teachers and students in Honduras. They always welcome support.

Finally, if you would like to start locally, how about visiting or building a Little Free Library in your neighborhood? City Lab highlights a list of spectacular Little Free Libraries that were created here in Indianapolis. Little Free Library is a website filled with great information, including how to build your own.

Each morning, the Center for Inquiry Schools recite our mission statement, which includes a promise to be “…socially responsible contributors to a changing global society.” Reading is a central part of this mission. As Hazel Robinson, an assistant editor of the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine says: “Reading takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.” 

I hope these resources can help as you celebrate the freedom that learning to read brings our own students, as well the importance of supporting those who do not yet share in this freedom.

Kathleen Rauth, the 2018 IPS Teacher of the Year, is the media specialist at Center for Inquiry Schools 27 and 2.