What’s On Your Bookshelf?
(No. 5 in “Character-Building Habits)
The failure to read good books…both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency – the belief that the here and now is all there is.
Alan Bloom – The Closing of the American Mind
“What books do you want your kids to have read by the time they leave home?” This was one of the compelling questions that came out of the book I have been reading – The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Sasse. Do we even care, as parents, what our kids are reading? We only have them a few years, so what are the good influences we want to expose to our kids, so they can become resilient, literate and thoughtful individuals (not adult-sized kids). And how do we model this as parents?
Tragically, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American now reads only nineteen minutes per day. And our kids are reading far less than that. One might point out that our kids are reading a lot on the screen and social media. This could be true in terms of shear minutes, but the quality is lacking (who cares what Julie bought at the mall), not to mention the dubious (“fake”) news that we are bombarded with. In fact, our proliferation of devices – iPhones and tablets – are a distraction. Here’s another quote from the book – “The main problem behind our insufficient deep reading is a frenzied pace and boundless digital distractions. But we have passively let the potential for reading quantity undermine the habit of repeatedly reading quality – or returning again and again to a small number of important texts until they are shaping our family’s shared grammar and vocabulary.”
So what can we do as parents? After all, it’s up to us. First, we must model it. We must also be intentional and select a list of books that are meaningful and influential in shaping our kids on the road to becoming adults. We can set limits on “screen time” and train them to sit and read for 45 – 60 minutes at a time (deep reading). We can talk about what we’re reading at dinnertime. We can start early, by reading to our kids long before they can read. The goal is to be hooked by their late teens or early twenties.
I grew up in a time with three channels (not counting PBS) and no smart phones. I did a lot of playing, bike riding and touch football. But I also spent a lot of time in the city library. I especially liked the biographies of famous Americans, like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt, and, the books were free. I even the read the Encyclopedia at home. (Which we now call “Google.”) I would sit on the porch on a summer day and soak in the stories of heroes (like Sergeant York) and other great men and women.
I will share my own list of books at a later date, but let me end with the story of arguably our greatest president – Abraham Lincoln. This man who gave us the Gettysburg Address, was born into poverty and didn’t go to high school or college, and only apprenticed his way into a law practice. So what was the difference? His mother. The seeds of his great speeches and writings were planted by his and his mother’s childhood reading. For example, he knew both the substance and the cadence of the Bible (KJV) backward and forward because as a boy his mother had spent so many evenings by the fire reading it aloud to him.
Here’s a final thought from Ben Sasse: Imagine you are Aristotle…and you’ve just landed a job tutoring Alexander, who will eventually be known as “The Great” and conquer lands from Greece to northern Africa to the Middle East and across much of Asia. What does Alexander need to know? Who does he need to be? What does he need to read?
Parents, we have this same high calling – to raise a ruler.
Children are the future, but we are the present.
– Adam Carolla