Being a Good Reader Doesn’t Make You Better

As someone who prides themselves on being a “good” reader, (as in, being able to quickly read and digest anything of written variety) I am here to tell both myself and everyone else who thinks they’re a good reader, I’m sorry. But we are not any better than those who are not.

I say this not in terms of scientific evidence, but instead in terms of cultural norms. As a child, I was told that I was extremely smart (and therefore, superior) because I always had my nose buried in a book. This gave me a sort-of complex.

I think we all have some of this complex. I mean, we’ve all laughed at places with misspelled signs.

I mean… who wouldn’t find this funny?

But I would like to point out that in this humor, we are looking down upon the person who wrote the sign and the business that flaunts it.

In the Goody & Watts article, “The Consequences of Literacy”, they wrote, “China, therefore, stands as an extreme example of how, when a virtually non-phonetic system of writing becomes sufficiently developed to express a large number of meanings explicitly, only a small and specially trained professional group in the total society can master it, and partake of the literate culture” (313).

I’d like to extend on what they were saying… All literate societies do this. The better one can read and write, the more esteemed they are in the culture. And the worse one is at reading and writing, the less important their life (or business) is.

Think of how we view people with high school diplomas versus people with PhD’s. And oh, man. Think about how we view people without a high school diploma.

This establishes a sort of caste system of human worth among the participants in each literate culture. In America, we value individuals with higher education way more than we do those who “work at McDonalds”.

There is a fatal flaw in this, one much more damming than figuring out that being a good reader does not make you better.

We have used this cultural expectation as a way to exploit impoverished and minority groups. 

As discussed in “The Right to be Literate: Literacy, Education, and the School-To-Prison Pipeline” by Winn, et al., “Childhood poverty, the lack of early childhood education, and the denial of a college-preparatory K-12 education promoting critical literacies have contributed to producing what has been referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline” (148).

The school-to-prison pipeline is a very disturbing truth about lower-income areas and how children are systemically pushed out of schools and into prisons, successfully ruining their chances at getting out of poverty.

It is something that will occupy a very separate blog post. But what I need you to know is that the people who “work at McDonalds” are people too. They are, in fact, just as much of a person as your general physician.

We need to be aware of how our own biases, such as believing that our literacy makes us superior humans, is a part of a system that is used to discriminate against minority groups.

So, basically, I hate to break it to you. But your ability to read Stephen King’s It in one week does not make you any better than someone who could never read the book at all. The movie was quite a good adaptation, and they can get everything they need to know from there.

Change starts small. I beg you all to be aware of your own biases and how they contribute to the world around you. So that maybe one day, we can live in an equal and just world.

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