Retired college professor James E. Courter's students proved with hilarity that reading is essential to writing. In "Teaching Taco Bell's Canon," he provides ample evidence that hearing something and being able to write it are two entirely different things. He calls his former students' "literary sub-genre" a "stream of unconsciousness." Consider these winners:
One guy admitted that he had trouble getting into "the proper frame of mime" for an 8 a.m. class. … Another lamented not being astute enough to follow the lecture on "Taco Bell's Canon" in music appreciation class. … One complained that his roommate was "from another dementian." Another was irritated by a roommate's habit of using his "toilet trees."
The examples go on. And while his column was good for a laugh on the treadmill, reason enough to run a few extra minutes, it both encourages me and gives me pause. Pause, for I realize some of these young people will one day assume roles of responsibility that will have consequences for the communities we live in (imagine a professional whose every email, letter, and printed speeches contains multiple occurrences of [sic]--the bracketed word that shows an odd or erroneous spelling is printed exactly as the author wrote it!). Encouragement, for I'm convinced more than ever that it's right that parents cut back on modern entertainment and distractions -- TV, iPhones, internet, computer games, etc., -- in exchange for reading.
Read! Uplift the importance of reading lots of books, as often as possible. Read to your children and read to yourself. Order books from the library and bring home stacks and stacks as varied and interesting as you can find. Use good, reliable books of books and lists of books to find suggestions. If your kids don't like to read, read to them. They like you. And likely you'll be surprised how much they'll enjoy being read to. Even the older ones! And if you don't like to read, consider the reasons. It does take effort, but all things worth doing, do.
May it not be said of us by our children that books weren't often a source of entertainment or discussion, or even present, in our homes. The consequences of too-little reading are too great.
Courter wraps with this sobering thought:
Among students' biggest complaints is that hey have to write so much in college. In his end-of-semester evaluation, one honest soul complained that "writing gives me fits." Sad to say, it's not uncommon to hear students remark on how much they look forward to being done with English.
Who knows what language they'll use then?