Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 21, 2002
Learn to read slow and grace will follow
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
A friend of mine with a solid background in the Church communications field recently took a job in a Catholic high school where, among other things, she's teaching an elective course in journalism.
On the first day of school, she asked students for a show of hands: How many of you read a newspaper every day?
After a long silence, one student made an effort to be helpful. "If my mother leaves the paper open on the breakfast table, I look at the front page." Another, clearly looking for a lifeline, posed a question: "Does the horoscope count?"
Welcome to the 21st century. Reading is rapidly becoming one of the lost arts, and all too often whatever reading is being done is reading in all in the wrong places.
There's evidence of that in the growth of the teen magazine field, where the emphasis is on pop culture, keeping up with fashion trends, even advice on sexual matters.
It used to be that television took the blame for the decline in serious reading among the young, and there's more than a grain of truth in that.
In recent years it's the computer which has become the culprit, again with good reason.
Anyone with young children or grandchildren around knows how quickly they develop computer skills, but that doesn't always mean that reading skills grow at the same time.
E-mailing and instant messaging have spawned a language all their own, in fact, with abbreviated words and phonetic spelling (in the interest, supposedly, of saving time and display space) substituting for proper English usage.
There's even a "text message version" of the Bible (published this year by Westminster John Knox Press) in which, for example, the stately King James translation of Ecclesiastes ("A time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak") is reduced to: "2keep & 2chuck; 2shut it & 2talk."
If this is progress, let me off!
Good reading is never out of style.
Almost 400 years ago, William Walker wrote: "Learn to read slow; all other graces will follow in their proper places." In our own time, United States author Mason Cooley observed that reading "gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are."
I'm happy to say that the Christopher Awards recognize the importance of quality literature by spotlighting important books and authors every year.
We're honoured to have as a member of our judging panel Charles Scribner III, of the well-known publishing family, whose father Charles Scribner, Jr., once noted: "Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own."
I don't know whether these thoughts will console my friend with her high-school classroom full of non-readers (aspiring journalist non-readers, at that), but that situation might already have been corrected.
Even before the semester started, she had made arrangements to take part in a national publication's "newspaper in the classroom" program, so by now, these budding writers should be reading away.
And I don't know whether that student who wanted to know, "Does the horoscope count?" ever got a reply. I think that I'd be inclined to answer, "Maybe, just maybe, it's a start."
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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