On this day in 1904, an unlikely force for literacy and learning was born. His parents named him Theodor Seuss “Ted” Geisel, but most of the world knew him simply as Dr. Seuss.
He wasn’t a really a doctor until Dartmouth College confirmed an honorary doctorate upon in him in 1956. He had added the title to his literary pen name because his father had always wanted him to be a physician. In many ways, though, he did become a doctor of words, of whimsical rhymes and especially of wonder. His prescription to cure sadness, anger, discouragement, poverty and a host of social ills was to encourage everyone to learn to read.
And society could use some of his reading remedies today. In a study released in 2018, researchers found 1 in 3 high school seniors did not read a single book for pleasure within the year of observation. More than 80% of them, however, visited social media sites every day.
The ramifications of a nonreading society are tangible and real. As the citizens of America continue to spend less time reading, they become less likely to engage with ideas with which they are unfamiliar. Nonreaders are more likely to dismiss new thinking and retreat to their own comfort zone or social media bubble for validation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports a steady decline in leisure reading among other cohorts. While adults may complain about kids spending too much time on devices, the largest declines in reading over the past several years has occurred in the 35- to 44-year-old demographic.
Not everyone needs to be a voracious bookworm. Something as simple as a storybook in the hands of a child can literally change the world.
Author and historian David McCullough was transformed into a reader when his college history professor told him he wouldn’t be quizzed on dates and locations in the class. McCullough has since noted that it was like a window was blown open and history became a never-ending stream of ideas to ponder and principles to explore.
Microsoft’s Paul Allen was an avid reader of science fiction. Abraham Lincoln would walk for miles just for the opportunity to read anything. Most people can recall a similarly magical moment in their lives where a book became their best friend.
Reading biographies of great people for inspiration, fiction for creativity and imagination, nonfiction for critical thinking, the classics for perspective, spiritual texts for wisdom and business guides for skills are great places to start. But, of course, reading anything just for the joy of it is always a good thing. Engaging in sustained reading, of any kind, fosters better critical and creative thinking, which, in today’s environment, are becoming priceless skills for work, home and the community.
Imagine what could happen if community and business leaders, along with government officials, applied just a few of Dr. Seuss’s prescriptions for today’s ailments.
Imagine what could happen if community and business leaders, along with government officials, applied just a few of Dr. Seuss’s prescriptions for today’s ailments. Rhetoric surrounding issues from health care to immigration, poverty and addiction to upward mobility, the environment and national security wouldn’t have quite the explosive edge. Solutions would become clearer.
On this day to celebrate and promote reading and learning, consider some parting advice from the man who shaped a generation of readers: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”