"Honey, put the book away. You've been reading for half an hour already and I don't want you to ruin your eyesight."
Does that sound wrong to you? It does to me.
Last week, I had to go home for my annual eye exam to get replacement contacts. While I'm patiently waiting for a contact lens specialist to help me out, I look over at the counter and I see a chart showing all the different type sizes available and what they're used in. You've seen them before, they're usually along the lines of "this is the type newspapers are usually printed in" and "this is the type typically used to print books."
The part that caught my attention was the bottom line, printed in a huge size, legible practically across the room. "This is the type size used in most children's books. Children should only be allowed to read books printed in large fonts and should not be allowed to read frequently."
The last time I checked, reading was supposed to be a good thing. It's been proven, time and again, that reading helps to broaden horizons (cheesy as that sounds), expand vocabularies, and even provide an escape from the everyday life. For a child, reading can provide exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking. It's disturbing to see a public institution actively discourage parents from letting children "read frequently."
On the Web site for the National Center for Education Statistics:
"In addition, books provide children with opportunities for learning and intellectual growth. In a recent study of student achievement, the number of books in the home was positively associated with the geography, mathematics, and science achievement of 9- and 13-year-old students within a given country."
Interestingly, mathematics and science are two of the categories that the US has been blasted for in the past as having sub-standard achievements. Our nation admittedly could have a better system of education, and even now it's sketchy whether or not things are improving. Certainly at our own school we've seen a slip in academic standards, but that's a different story.
Part of the problem is that we live in a culture that values speed and shock value over the slow - and admittedly more difficult - process of reading a book. In such a thrill-packed existence, who's got time to spend reading anymore?
I don't know if it's still common practice anymore (I haven't been a child in a while) but I can remember my parents reading books to me and to my younger brother and sister at bedtime. For a family that now goes in so many separate ways, it's nice to have that kind of memory to look back on and be thankful for.
Growing up in a small town where most people would rather go to a car race than enter the public library, I'm probably a little prejudiced. If my parents hadn't taught me to read at an early age and to love reading, I'd probably have followed in the footsteps of my classmates and been pregnant or married by the time I graduated high school. It's a little frightening to realize how big a difference education can make in a child's life, especially when all the other factors point downhill.
What did that chart indicate? Hopefully just an overzealous eye-care provider who panicked at the thought of hundreds of adolescents flooding his office in search of relief caused by excessive book absorption. If not, it seems we may soon truly fulfill the American stereotype - we may not be too smart, but we've got the bombs and the good eyesight needed to drop them on your heads.