The Silent Revolution of reading

We have had many noisy – even by necessity – violent ructions in our country for a long time in the fight for freedom, from the 1870s to 1990s.

But the time for violent ructions is over. That is a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it we must. There is an urgent need to wage a new type of revolution, a Silent Revolution, especially in historically black communities.

This silent revolution will happen mostly in public libraries: reading, studying, debating (based on factual posit), partaking in book clubs, researching, writing and developing our intellectual strength in the world.

If there is any one institution black people must ensure is abundantly provided in their communities it is a library for every thousand households. Black children must grow up spending the greater part of their upbringing in the company of their parents or guardians, inside a library, fully dedicated to a silent revolution: reading, playing educational games such as Scrabble, participating in kiddies’ book clubs and learning to formulate ideas they can express lucidly in debates.

But black folk are not doing this. Parents are telling their children to read, yet parents do not model the behaviour about which they preach. Instead they are witnessed by their children spending more time watching soapie after soapie, ad nauseam.

Then parents pretend to be surprised when their children prefer to watch more television with their parents than go to the library, and finally they drop out of school before they complete Grade 12 because their comprehension levels are too low.

At the centre of high youth unemployment is an aspect we are loathe to admit: the absence of a reading culture among parents.

Tweak the economy all we want, but youth unemployment will persistently be high, especially among black youth, because black youth generally do not read. The main reason black youth do not read is, well, their parents do not read. So, youth consider the library as “that boring place” because their home is not a library where folks read habitually.

If the parents read, children follow suit. Over time, as if by magic, high school dropout rates plummet or at worst become negligible. More black youth gain the know-how to use their knowledge to found and build successful small businesses and other institutions which employ other young people and reduce youth unemployment. Young women face fewer patriarchal barriers because men are more educated about how patriarchy sets a low standard of excellence for everyone. And our country becomes all the better for it.

Yet, for the Silent Revolution to be sustainable, our public libraries will have to be far better managed than at present, which is poorly.

Nonetheless, the mantra in black communities should be “every house a library”. Progress.

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