I obviously think learning to read is a great idea. I earn my living writing children’s books. Children’s hard labour keeps me busy with honest toil.
I wouldn’t want children to grow up without recourse to the wonderful worlds of fantasy that I was able to explore in my youth. Narnia was not just a collection of words, to me it was a real place where, in complete safety, I learned long-lasting lessons about bravery, treachery, politics, sword -fighting and alternative religious ideas.
The wonderful stories I read, pulled me along the path of improving my reading skills. I didn’t know that was what I was doing, I just knew I wanted to read the next in the series. But, back then, there was no question that being able to read and write was a passport to grown-up society, where everything revolved around the written word.
But in a connected world of screens, retina scans, video, text to speech and speech to text, do children still really have to go through that painful, laborious process of learning to read? You just have to watch a pre-school child to see how they deal with technology – it’s as if the instructions were genetically imprinted.
I wouldn’t want children to miss out on all the wonderful characters who inhabited my childhood or my children’s childhoods. But those stories would still be available in apps and movies, videos and t-shirts.
Today is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
If you could not read its contents, and have read enough to have learned how to interpret and read between the lines, you would have to accept what you were being told about it by the machine that was explaining it to you.
With words, unless they have been burned by a frightened authority, you can always go back to the source. Screens are a cut and paste world where every bit, every byte and every pixel can be carelessly modified by algorithms created by nameless drones working for unaccountable organisations.
Yes, children do still need to learn to read and to learn to read well, to be able to question and interpret. As they grow up into a world we can hardly begin to imagine, they must be able to return to the source codes of honesty, integrity, compromise and law. Those are the real lessons learned in children’s books.
It is the the stories that provide the pleasure that masks the pain and hard labour of learning to read, that make the process an exciting adventure that develops a thirst for knowledge and a dawning understanding of how others view the world. Reading a book is the closet you can get to reading someone else mind.
So I will gladly carry on writing – It’s my duty to try and help the next generation save itself from itself.