If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 2 July 2010

Printed letters - A postscript

For most children today, printed letters have been replaced by moving images on a TV screen, at least in our country. Very few fortunate children develop the habit of reading. After reading my remark “When I gave a book to a nephew … I saw a shadow of disappointment cross his face”, a reader, Sujith has commented that it is not so in at least one first world country, the USA. He writes:
… let me tell you how different (it is) here in NY. Kids are groomed to develop the taste for reading. My daughter is in kindergarten and it’s amazing how much emphasis is given to reading. Every week her teacher sends a book home and we have to read with her. Also parents are encouraged to buy books from a company and the company donates a book to the class library. Whenever I travel, I see Americans always reading something, on the flight or train or at airports. Now I know where it comes from.
I am obliged to Sujith for sharing this piece of information with me. My wife and I were in the US when my grandson was born at Yale University Hospital. Immediately after his birth, several counsellors visited his parents and urged them to read to the infant right from day 1. In fact, the reading had begun even before that. Researchers have found that babies in womb too respond to reading and would-be-parents are encouraged to read aloud for the benefit of the baby even before s/he is born.  I also found their system of public libraries amazing and wrote about it in my post titled Libraries in the US.

It was the time when Barrack Obama was trying to become the president. One of the main planks of Obama’s future plans was to make American children better students, so that they could compete with Indians and Chinese. Here in India, as opportunities are limited, some children study hard because they know they have no other choice. But I am yet to recall an election speech by an Indian politician in which education is mentioned even peripherally.

Coming back to the children who grow up with the TV as their main companion, I am sure their world is a lot more colourful and things happen at a much faster pace there. We used to gather information slowly, by reading. These days, children directly interact with the world beyond their immediate surroundings with two senses, eyes and ears. Also, they get to receive a lot more information than we did. As a result, they are vastly more well-informed than we were. And smarter.

But they miss out on one aspect. They “see” stories, mainly cartoons. We didn’t see things directly. For us, eyes were just a tool to decode the enormous wealth of information hidden in printed letters. We actually saw with our mind’s eyes. Whether it was a journey to the moon or the centre of the earth, every child in my childhood travelled to their personal imaginary destinations. Each young reader had their own perception about of Fagin’s brutality or Dr. Livesey’s gentlemanliness.

Many children of the twenty-first century, though rich in information, do not have the luxury of imagination. The see the way TV producers want them to see things.


  1. ...and television programming has the restriction of market viability, which is why TV producers show only what people want to see. Reading thankfully does not have to wrestle with profits and losses.

  2. An excellent point, Sudipto. Thanks.

  3. Its kind of ironic that many Indian parents here consider primary education here is not of higher standard as in India. I guess one of the reason that conclusion is made is because general reading and stuff are not counted as education vs learning maths, science, geography and history.
    But i can only imagine how great a gift it would be to instill reading in a kid! Once you are in the habit of reading, you will find your knowledge no matter what!

  4. Very Good and Right point about the relationship between reading and power of imagination.


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