Why Focus on Literacy?

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

This is simple but profound wisdom from Dr. Seuss, and it is the foundational reason why Lift focuses on literacy. We are convinced that when we give children a boost in their ability and enjoyment of reading, we are handing them keys to unlock their imaginations and the doors to understanding.

The connection between literacy and learning used to be inherent.  But now we are in a literacy crisis.  When I started teaching High School English some 30 years ago, I noticed that most of my students did not enjoy reading.  The ones who were hoping to attend college forced themselves to read because they knew it would build their vocabulary and knowledge base.   But persuading them that it was fun was an uphill battle.  As someone who had grown up loving the experience of getting “lost” in a book, I couldn’t understand, until I realized that the entertainment of stories in print had been replaced with the much more accessible visual entertainment.  There was no way that black and white words on a page could compete with moving, colorful images for delivering “stories.”  Without the draw of stories, reading became flat, and without the enjoyment of reading, there just wasn’t much of it.  On that trajectory, we have become a culture that is increasingly less literate.  

According to the website for Reading is Foundational:

  • 65% of 4th graders read below grade level, contributing to 8,000 students dropping out of high school every day.
  • 43% percent of American adults are functionally illiterate.

In addition to addressing the educational crisis, Lift’s focus on literacy has a relational component.    If we can add words to the vocabulary bank in each child’s mind, we can help them emotionally and interpersonally as well.   The saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” is appropriate when we see something that is so significant it takes our breath away.  But in our media saturated culture, visuals have almost eclipsed our ability to find or even know very many words to describe what we see and think and feel to the extent that we are almost crippled in our communication.  This effects our skill at explaining pain, communicating joy or even handling anger.  If words are the building blocks on which information is placed, the more complicated the concept, the more it depends on words for explanation.  Everyone needs the ability to understand concepts like: “trustworthy,” “hopelessness,” or “self-control.”   Try teaching those concepts to children without the foundation of other words to explain them.   As children have more words to describe what they are feeling, they can use the words as bridges to connect them to the people in their lives.   

There are many little ways to enlarge your world.  Love of books is the best of all.”                        – Jacqueline Kennedy

Dianne Biehl

Lift Director

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