My student went on to explain that as a twelve year old boy he hated reading. Hated it! But one summer his mother made up her mind that she wanted him to become a reader. So, she began assigning him laundry lists of chores to do around the house and whenever he complained she would say, "Well you can always go read instead."
So, he would hang up the mop and grumble his way to the couch, book in hand. At first he just pretended to read, spacing off until he heard his mom coming and then he would fling open the book, instantly engrossed. For the first few weeks he couldn't decide which was worse, manual labor or sitting bored on the couch while pretending to read. And then something happened. He actually started to read the books.
In one summer this boy went from being a non-reader to a devoted lover of books. He couldn't get enough. Soon he was reading all of the time, even to the point that his mom had to confiscate his books at bedtime because he kept sneaking out of bed to turn the light on and read.
Obviously I loved this essay since years after the fact I can vividly recall its details. It reminds me of my sister Vauna, how my mom used to "ground" her from reading each day until she played outside for at least one hour. Vauna would argue and cry for her books to be returned, but my mom was firm in the idea that a ten year old girl should play outside and interact with other human beings for at least one hour a day.
The question that these stories pose, in my mind, is how to teach your children to love to do something. You can teach them to read, but how do you help them love to read?
My student concluded his essay by arguing that his entire academic future, which is to say his entire life, was transformed by learning to love to read. He simply couldn't imagine slogging through years of college, or slogging through the fine print of life for that matter, without being a competent reader. It was a choice his mother made, and for that he was made eternally grateful.
This summer at our house I have instigated a "Rest and Read" program. For one hour each day, right after lunch, my girls need to get on their bed to rest and/or read. The choice is theirs. The first couple of days this schedule was met with angry cries and complaints that I am an unfeeling mother. That I cannot appreciate how bored they are. But by the end of this week the rest and read hour became calm, and yesterday Madeleine announced she had already finished one of her library chapter books. I congratulated her and left the room with a smile on my face, my unexpressed inner triumph complete.
We can't force them. But we can provide opportunities. We can lead them, and show them how wonderful it is to try new things.