“Mother, I am young. Mother, I am just eighteen. I am strong. I will work hard, Mother. But I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. What must I do, mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?"
"The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day, I know this is the secret”
― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Throughout history the most common means of controlling the masses is to keep them ignorant. The best way to keep people ignorant is to prevent them from being able to read and write; in any language. If people cannot read or write, they must depend on those who can to tell them what is, or what isn’t.
In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Katie begs of her mother to tell her the secret of preventing her child from living a life of poverty, to which her mother responds, “The secret is in the reading and the writing.” She goes on to explain that she herself is ignorant to reading and writing, but Katie can read, and she must ensure that Francie is also able to read and write, and as a byproduct be able to think for herself.
As time goes on in our world, I sit back and wonder about our own children. With a growing preference for videos and movies, and all things that hold their attention for thirty seconds or less, I wonder. Will they be able to succeed in a world where the United States is ranking lower and lower on the education scales worldwide? There are third world countries that rank higher than we do. Will our children have the ability to think for themselves?
Katie’s mother came from the old country, Ireland. She came from a time when she did not have a need for reading and writing. However, in her wisdom, she recognized that in this new country, her children would need to know this skill. They would not succeed without it. They would not achieve anything great or even live a decent life.
There is no difference between now and then. Children who cannot read do not develop critical thinking skills, they lack the imagination necessary for innovative thinking, and they cannot comprehend simple mathematical story problems. Reading is the foundation of education in every respect. This applies to more than recognizing words. One must know what the word means in every context in which it is used. This is taught through reading and built upon through writing.
We are at a critical turning point in our own living history. The debate rages on whether or not we should continue to teach cursive writing, without regard to the fact that the original historical national documents are written in cursive. Who will tell the young what the Constitution or Declaration of Independence says? Will the children be forced to depend on others to tell them? There is a certain danger in this.
When I taught classes on personal financial literacy and employment readiness, I concluded that there are two keys to socio-economic success: 1) understanding money management; and 2) education. Without the ability to read, an individual has no chance to master either.
I am a strong proponent of child and adult literacy. In a global society we must be able to communicate in the written word, lest we fall to a new and darker age than we have ever known before.
There are many lessons to be learned in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but none greater than the fundamental truth: “The secret is in the reading and the writing.”
Through literature we learn to live, to love, and to conquer!