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What keeps me awake: If parents won’t read, how can we expect children to?

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“It’s absolutely impossible to get them to read. S/he hates it. I wish they would read, I really do.”

This sentence, accompanied with a little hopeless shrug, is one I frequently hear at parents’ evenings.

I respond appropriately, handing out my ready-prepared list. However, lately (perhaps getting cynical) I have started throwing in a question myself: “What do you read? Is there something you could share?”

The response is always mild surprise. After all, we’re here to talk about the child, not the parent: “Me? Oh no, I don’t read. I don’t have time/hate reading.”

This troubles me.

Literacy skills are the gateway to the whole curriculum. Excellent literacy skills create greater accessibility, and not just in humanity subjects. Good readers have good ordering skills and this helps with logic, sequencing and number work.

Individuals with high literacy rates have better self-esteem and higher earning power as adults. Countries with high literacy rates have stronger economies and citizens who are more politically active. I could go on.

All this begins with reading. Yet in the last decade of my career I have noticed an increasing dichotomy in literacy outcomes in schools: there are children who read well and those who do not read at all.

Excellent literacy must remain a key outcome of education. So the responsibility for a child’s reading is mine. And yet. And yet.

The fact of the matter is that teachers do not operate in a vacuum. For a child to read, parents must read. Often. In front of them and behind their backs. They must prioritise it. They must discuss good books. They must pick up the newspaper and share a commentator’s column. They must visit a library. It is simply irresponsible to wish their child would read. Parents must make it happen.

K D Messik is a teacher and writer in London

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