ColumnistsD Kevin McNeirEditor's ColumnOpinion

EDITOR’S COLUMN: Don’t Believe the Hype — Reading and Writing Skills Cannot Be Replaced by Texts and Tweets

With the recent death of my mother at the age of 91, I have become, as a friend reminded me just yesterday, the patriarch of the family. And with that realization, I have begun to assess the roads I’ve meandered, the paths less taken and what the future holds for me in this newly-acquired driver’s seat.

One thing that troubles me, even if I remain within the minority of those with this perspective, is the way parents have replaced babysitters and one-on-one time with their children with tablets, computers and other high-tech wonders of the 21st century.

My youngest grandson, 5-year-old Jackson, after a few moments on his own, will inevitably shout as loudly as possible the following phrase: “Mommy, I need my tablet.”

Make no mistake, when the young master makes this proclamation, he is not playing and leaves little room for a negative reply from any of us. In fact, he can get downright belligerent if that “tablet” doesn’t immediately materialize, placed within his small hands where he then goes on a mental pilgrimage as the colors and sounds take his full attention.

Of course, I understand the benefits of the new apps and technological discoveries that have changed the way my little man is learning, growing, maturing and finding his own voice. However, I am still the patriarch and as such, I have a few simple demands.

When I was his age, my mother, an elementary school teacher, required that I read to her aloud every day. There was no play time, no television (although back then we only had five or six channels on the tube in the Detroit market) and certainly no outdoor activities — not before I had finished a book or two and explained what I liked, what I understood and how it related to me.

Thus, our home became a cornucopia of books, puzzles, maps and drawings — and they all belonged to me. Books quickly became my friends and as an only child, they helped me compensate for being alone. Actually, I still prefer my books over the company of some folks who have so much to say but say so little when they open their mouths.

As a journalist, I continue to meet college-educated, hopeful writers who have great skills at putting together videos or shooting out tantalizing tweets, but if you ask them to write a simple paragraph with a lead sentence that’s sure to capture the attention of the reader — well, that often presents a problem.

Reading and writing are skills we learn as children. But the way we become comfortable and competent is by seeing examples of quality writing on pages — even if those pages are not in books but rather viewable on a computer screen. As for writing, when was the last time you sat down to pen a letter to a friend — a letter written on stationary not in 124 characters?

Sometimes, when I was a child, my friends would complain because I refused to let them borrow my books. Not even my own children or those who work for me at the Informer, will bother to ask me about “holding” a book for a few weeks. Why? Because my answer will always be “No.”

After all, how could I let my special friends be taken away from the safety of my bedside, my bookshelves or my several desks dominated by stacks of books to read whose bindings have yet to be cracked?

Now, as part of my shopping excursions, I look for age-appropriate books for Jackson, my youngest grandson. But I’m also looking for something that will motivate his older brother, Jordon — a teenage Black male who needs to know the difference between fact and fiction. Take it from me, friends will come and friends will go. Apps, new today, become obsolete tomorrow. But a good book will last a lifetime.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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