I went to the library today and came home with two novels, a “how-to” book, and two books about pioneer women. Books, reading, and trips to the library were components of my life long before I joined my classmates for story time in kindergarten. Reading has been the foundation of my education, entertainment, and enlightenment, and often provided an escape from challenges I wasn’t ready to face. And though I know that younger people are reading in different ways on a variety of devices, reading continues to be a skill that everyone uses on a daily basis.
On the way home I passed by the college football field where a small group of young men were practicing their plays for the next game. As I watched them for a moment I thought about how eagerly they volunteer for a game that will occupy so little of their future. They learn the rules and practice the skills required for optimum performance. They run in the heat, listen to harsh criticism, and even endure pain in order to outplay another team. They are intent on perfecting the skills that will give them an advantage the next time they play and perhaps even make them the hero of the moment. Despite all this devotion most college football players spend their post-collegiate days as football fans…not professional athletes. And sadly, many of them avoid the one activity that would give them a lifetime of skills and advantages.
No, I’m not going to tell you that our boys should not play sports. What I’m going to tell you is that we are somehow failing them. It’s obvious from their reaction to sports that they have passion, motivation, aptitude, intelligence, and persistence. We need to do more as parents and educators to help our boys apply those qualities to academics, specifically reading, so they will be prepared for life beyond sports. We have to figure out why so many first and second grade boys already consider reading a “chore” or “obstacle” or “frustration”. We have to develop better ways to instruct, encourage, and support them. They may play sports through sixteen years of school, but they will be expected to read through the next sixty years of life.