Read? Why? I’ll just wait for the movie!

This is an essay by T. Lloyd Reilly.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”  ~Charles W. Eliot

Being an obsessive reader of words, it came to me that there is what appears to be a huge conspiracy in society today against the written word.  I have always wondered how this happened and why it occurred.  Here is what I have come up with.

Our educational system has failed society massively.  Our children are not motivated to learn as in years gone by.  At one time it was the goal to achieve graduation from high school. Today, those who worry the most about the graduation rate are those whose livelihood is jeopardized by having that rate decrease. I graduated, but it was late because I had to go to summer school to make up a math class.  My mother cried the day I told her I had to go to summer school and she was not going to get to see me graduate,  I had always resisted the subject that delayed my walking the stage, and might even have dropped out if it were not for the true reason I attended school…they let me read in school as much as I wanted and, as long as I took their stupid tests and did their stupid homework, they left me alone in my magical world of words.

My obsession with words began when I was between two and three years old.  My cousin had a collection of comic books which he would let me read in order to keep me quiet while he had babysit me at his house.  I recall looking at the pictures and liking them all right, but I mostly recall the feeling that the words gave me.  Suffice it to say that by the time I entered kindergarten I had taught myself the ABC’s and read “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London.  Not the Classic Comic version, but the full book in small print.

My reading was encouraged from the start but, sadly, children who arrive at a love of words similar to mine are in a disturbing minority.  This is society’s and the educational system’s fault.  Being a rational man,and ultimately becoming a Certified Special Education teacher as well as an English and Reading teacher for Middle school and High school students, I realize that belief in some diabolical plot against reading is a seemingly preposterous supposition.  Given the realities of what I was required to do in order to receive a paycheck while working as a practicing teacher it now seems to be a rational hypothesis.

Education in the modern day, as suggested earlier and especially in America, is a profit driven beast.  While you might hear all the wise and wonderful rhetoric from teary eyed folks about the magic of school, it has turned from being a place of wonders to a place of numbers.  School funding is directly tied to student performance on standardized tests and more and more schools are opting to teach the test in lieu of true education.  The focus is consistently on getting right answers and negating the learning potential of mistakes.  In their defense, it is not that educators wish it to be this way, but it is what they are forced into.  I was fortunate in that the school I worked at had a mandatory reading program that all students were required to take.

There is light at the end of the tunnel to be seen.  Progressive thinkers have begun to emerge that challenge the established mentality.  One of these is the Khan Academy. This is a free online educational program where students can find math tutorials.  There is talk of expanding into other areas and subjects.  This might be a great opportunity to get more people to read.

At the same time the use of technology might just be the fulcrum from which the problems in reading originated.  In the 1950’s it was discovered that subliminal messages were being placed on the screens in movie theaters aimed at increasing sales at the concession stands.  This created a huge fuss, but it was never killed.  Even today, popular films have hidden messages in them.  We have at least two generations that have grown up on television-as-the-babysitter.  A flip through the channels will support the ideal that subliminal manipulation is alive and well.

It goes to the human psyche and the internalization and externalization process.  When certain cable programming became universally available, the campaign shifted into hyper drive.  It takes a normal human being somewhere between 1.5 and 2 seconds to see an image and internalize it.   Internalization is where the mind goes to make value judgments on what it experiences and is integral to the right/wrong choices a person confronts every day.  These cable programs began showing images that lasted .5 seconds which only allowed the external influence to be triggered.  Consequently, the choices made are based simply on how attractive the image is, and how the obtaining of the items displayed in the images might be accomplished.  Value means naught in the face of a cool ride, or a hot girlfriend/boyfriend.  Naturally the products and services offered in these attempts at subliminal sabotage are directly tied to the conscious level of want instead of need.  Thoughts that are internalized allow for the discernment that is associated with value assessment.

The difficulty in breaking a generation built on this kind of influence from the softer, easier way of the “what’s in it for me” crew, to the more challenging “Is this right” acolytes is monumental.  Reading a book is time consuming that could best be spent at the latest game, or jam.  The lessons of such books as “The Count of Monte Cristo” are circumvented by the latest action film about gangsters seeking the revenge the street. The agonizing path to acceptance, love, and compassion that Edmond Dantès experiences over the course of his incarceration and subsequent escape and freedom cannot be taught anywhere but in the pages of that book.  Likewise using the lessons of the street as a method of teaching about vengeance is what we get from a generation who was never taught the beauty of books, and might explain why there are children carrying guns to school and murdering their classmates.

So what is the answer?  Use both.  Show people that revenge is not a path to redemption, but justice is.  Stop glorifying guys with nine millimeter guns, and get a person to meet someone who is protesting peace – nonviolently.  Discuss the story, and find the internal message.  Let kids see the film version of the Count of Mont Cristo or Call of the Wild, but also introduce them to Edmond Dantès, and Buck the sled dog within the pages.  Use both venues, and perhaps the next time there is a choice, the library will get a new member.


T. Lloyd Reilly is a writer with over twenty five years of writing experience. He has lived what some would consider more than one lifetime and has acquired a wide range of knowledge and life experience which he wishes to share through generous application of the written word. For more information about him go to:

Photo: Some rights reserved by jronaldlee


  1. Chris

    The reality of schools having to teach tests is a sad one, as is the reality that most people don’t make time to read, because reading seems to them too much effort, with too limited of a reward. Of course, in my opinion, education and love for books should start in the home. Even so, although my mother (also a school-teacher specializing in special education) read to all of us from an early age, took us to the library, and did her best to gift us with a love of reading, I feel like it took much stronger root with me, than with my brothers. Both of them read, but with them it’s not nearly the constant companion as it is with me and they tend to read more magazines and newspapers than books…

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      To have someone like T. Lloyd Reilly give a guest post is fantastic because we get the perspective of a former educator. I’m glad to see there are teachers that recognize the problem that standard tests create. I am saddened to see that even though they recognize the problem no one seems to listen at the legislative level!

      Your comment drives home the same point since you talk through the perspective of having seen your mother’s teaching frustrations.

      I suppose we can all just do what we can at home to make due. It’s not an easy problem to solve aside from on a person by person basis.

Comments are closed.