Teaching Story: Book Sense and Dollar Signs

I usually stick around after graduation to celebrate with the parents of my favorite students. I'll never forget one encounter that I had with a student whom I will call Karl.

I had taught Karl's older sister, and now Karl was on his way out. (I have a joke I usually play with parents who have multiple good kids graduate from my school. I tell them, "On behalf of the faculty of Station Camp High School, I'd like to arrange a romantic dinner for the two of you.")

I asked Karl's mother about his future.

She smiled. "I think he will go into nursing."

I was ecstatic. For some reason, I imagined numbers scrolling in front of my eyes like the numbers on slot machines. Karl came from a lower-middle-class family, and he was going to live a comfortable life on a nurse's salary.

"There's one problem, though," his mother continued.

A problem?

"He doesn't really like to read."

Suddenly the numbers stopped spinning. A different future came into view--a future spent taking orders and purchasing services from individuals who differed from Karl in only one significant respect, their willingness to read and tackle the kinds of complicated texts that lead to in-demand skills and high wagers.

I've never read a nursing textbook, but I can imagine that it's a lot harder to read than a novel or school-assigned book.

I have tried to read electrical manuals and auto-diesel textbooks. It's tough. I'll take Jane Eyre or The Odyssey any day. Coincidentally, there are many electricians and mechanics who earn more than I do.

Less reading is what a lot of people settle for, but the jobs available for those who don't read are also in less demand and provide less pay.

It's time every teacher and parent made kids understand how crucial reading can be--and how worthwhile selecting challenging texts in school can truly be.