Rep. Brian Stewart Weekly Column: Reading and Objectivity

It was Atwood Townsend who said, No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading. I most definitely agree, and it is one of the reasons I chose to once again conduct my annual Summer Reading Program for our students in the 89th District.

This year we had fantastic participation, with over 132 students completing the program, representing 30 cities and villages from 5 counties in the District. Almost 100 students and their parents joined us at the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Square in Freeport on August 18th to receive their certificate for having completed the program, and afterwards enjoyed an ice cream party at Union Dairy. The ice cream party is a fun incentive to keep these students reading and excelling.

I would like to sincerely thank each student who participated as well as the families who supported them. Parent and family involvement is essential to helping our kids become better readers. The National Education Association (NEA) reports that:

“The substantial relationship between parent involvement for the school and reading comprehension levels of fourth-grade classrooms is obvious, according to the US Department of Education. Where parent involvement is low, the classroom mean average (reading score) is 46 points below the national average. Where involvement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average a gap of 74 points. Even after controlling for other attributes of communities, schools, principals, classes, and students, that might confound this relationship, the gap is 44 points.”

Parents make a difference when we read to our kids. And that difference helps set the course for their future success.

Programs like these encourage our students to read more. As the NEA has reported, we know that having kids read a lot is one of the crucial components of becoming a good reader. Young readers need to become practiced at recognizing letters and sounds. The only way to get good at it is to practice.

As I said to the kids and their parents in the Debate Square, students who read over the summer are better prepared for returning to school in the fall. We have known for a long time that reading well also helps prepare students for success as adults.

I heard a number recently that Stephenson County has 1100 jobs available right now and Im sure it is a much larger number across the 89th District. Communities, government, and businesses all play a role in helping prepare people to fill those jobs. We can help ourselves too, and reading well is definitely important.

In January of 1989, Jump Start The Federal Role in Adult Literacy and the final report of the project on Adult Literacy sponsored by the Southport Institute for Policy, was published. It said, There is no way in which the United States can remain competitive in a global economy, maintain its standard of living, and shoulder the burden of the retirement of the baby boomer generation unless we mount a forceful national effort to help adults upgrade their basic skills in the very near future. In 2015, Forbes magazine reported that 36 million Americans lack the most basic skills in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving deemed minimally necessary for meaningful employment in a high-tech global economy.

As we can see, being able to read well by adulthood is a national priority and a key component for our childrens success. That success will impact their families, their friends, their community and their country. In this age of game consoles, tablets and smart phones, Im convinced that wanting to read is a desire that should be encouraged.

Yes, reading well is definitely important. And as our kids continue to grow, they will add other important skills, like critical thinking, to their arsenal. Critical thinking is important because it helps us apply objectivity when were reading.

Objectivity is difficult sometimes when reading on issues we care about. For example, people who think the Electoral College was definitely tied to slavery will say that facts contradicting their opinion are irrelevant. The truth is the reason we have an Electoral College is because our Founding Fathers were concerned about preventing tyranny and building a federal government. The purpose of our federal government was to create a more perfect union by providing a balance of powers, and according to the Washington Post article I cited last week, secure the blessings of liberty. I think Illinois could learn something from our Founding Fathers.

In the end, I believe we need more people reading and thinking critically about the challenges we face and the measures we need to overcome them. I am committed to serving you to the best of my ability, while pursuing common sense solutions to move all of Illinois forward.

Brian Stewart

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