Growing up in Duncan, Okla., USA, I took it for granted that everyone could read. In my own elementary school, not only were we expected to be reading by the age of seven or eight, we were expected to read upside down. We each took turns reading books to the entire class, and of course, if you want to read out loud to a group while you show them the pictures, you can’t do it the right way up. All the way through elementary school, we did that every week, until it didn’t really matter to us which way we were holding the book.
I never thought too much about that skill at the time. But a few months ago, on a visit to a Rotary project in Decatur, Ala., I walked into a first-grade classroom and was asked if I would read a book to a class of six-year-olds. Naturally, I was happy to oblige. I sat down,
opened the book they had chosen, and started reading to about 30 little kids – upside down, just the way I did it back in second grade.
In a sense, I was doing exactly what I’d learned to do more than half a century earlier. But as an adult, and especially as a Rotarian, I saw that experience in a different way. I was reading to a group of children who were well on their way to literacy themselves. We were sitting in their classroom, in a school where Rotarians came every week to read one-on-one with children who needed a little extra help. There wasn’t any question that every child in that room would grow up to be a literate adult. And all of them took that completely for granted – as they took it for granted that adults would care enough to read them a book while showing them the pictures, even if that meant reading upside down.
We all know that millions of children all over the world aren’t that lucky. That’s why we make basic education and literacy a priority in our Rotary service. As we mark Literacy Month in Rotary, we remind ourselves what a gift we are giving when we help a child to read – whether it’s a child on the other side of the world or right in our own hometown.