Opinion

Best thing for kids? Get a book | Rich Elfers

Would you like to know how to have a child who does well in school? According to an article in the March/April Foreign Affairs Magazine entitled “Capitalism and Inequality” by Jerry Z. Miller, there is one key that seems to be the best determinant of educational success: “The prevalence of books in a household is a better predictor of higher test scores than family income.” Let’s examine why this is so.

Money does matter of course, but one’s genetics, parenting and the cultural community matter a great deal more, according to Miller. Educated parents tend to be more involved in their children’s upbringing even when both work. They often have mastered the ability to take advantage of online technology without being sucked into wasting time watching a lot of television and playing computer games.

I grew up in a house full of books. Both my parents were readers. My parents had purchased hundreds of children’s books for us to read. My mother read to me as a child and I ended up loving school. Learning was exciting and fun for me and still is. If you follow my column you can see I still am an avid reader based on the articles and books I refer to.

My father grew up as the oldest son of a poor homesteader near Ronan, Mont. His father never got more than an elementary school education. It took my dad eight years to get a degree in electrical engineering during the 1930s Depression era. In spite of their poverty, my father’s family was made up of rigorous readers.

My mother’s family, also products of the Great Depression, had a more stable income. Her father was an elected judge in Glasgow, Mont. He got his law degree by working for a senator in Washington, D.C., and reading the senator’s law books. The family was middle class, not wealthy. The whole family read and prospered.

As you can see from my families’ example, positive attitudes toward reading did bear out the fact that books in the house are a good predictor of academic success.

A few years ago I read a book of fiction called Dear James, by Jon Hassler. It contained a quotation about a troubled 7-year-old Irish boy named Bobby who was going to America to live with Agatha, a retired teacher. I copied a passage in my diary because I thought it applied to me. I’d like to share it with you:

“And once in America, she was confident he would fall into line. For one thing, he was intelligent, and intelligent children, in her experience almost always straightened themselves out over time. For another thing…he loved books. Books moved his mind away from his demons. She’d never known a book lover to grow up to cause trouble.”

What I hope you will gain from this week’s column is that you don’t have to have a lot of money to raise children who take advantage of the education that is offered in our public school system and in our public libraries.

What you need is a family where reading is highly valued and where parents invest a lot of time teaching their children the value and wonder of books. Truly, “The prevalence of books in a household is a better predictor of higher test scores than family income.” Read to your children and set an example by being a reader yourself. That’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.

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