CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 1997

Most of Northeast Mississippi's students from kindergarten through graduate school report for fall-semester classes this week and next.

Those who are sophomores in high school and college will graduate (if grades and classes go as planned) in a new century and new millennium. All the students those at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State down to the most eager kindergarten pupil enter school this fall with the certainty that much of what they need to know will change dramatically by the time they report for their first adult jobs.

The fast-paced change in useful knowledge makes all the more essential the building blocks for learning, and the most important one is reading.

People first learn to read, and then they read to learn.

The Tupelo Public Schools, among others, have a special emphasis on reading proficiency, and it begins with pre-schoolers. The school system and its board of trustees want young children to enter school fully prepared to begin learning. They can't take full advantage of what's offered unless they are ready to learn how to read or have learned reading basics before kindergarten. The reading emphasis continues all the way through high school, where education increasingly is technology intensive.

Reading is as important 12 or more years later when students enter college. A 20-year veteran in the administration at the University of Mississippi described Monday the importance of technology and technology-based research for the students starting classes next week on the Oxford campus. The technology will mean nothing and research will be impossible if the students can't read with thorough understanding the flood of words poured out on them in a four-year university education.

The need for understanding technology, of course, begins much earlier than college. Almost every student in every district faces demands for knowledge of information technology by at least early elementary school. Many students start school with some computer proficiency and knowledge of the Internet that confounds Baby Boomer parents and grandparents.

The foundation for all of it is reading. Keyboards and keystrokes mean nothing unless the brain has been taught to process and analyze what technology produces. Proficient reading makes useful analysis and application possible.

The Southern Regional Education Board, which both defines and measures benchmarks in the South's schools, made reading a cornerstone of its strategy for making schools work in the integration of academic and vocational education. The more traditional college preparatory tracks remain grounded in not only an ability to read but an enthusiasm for it.

Alvin Toffler wrote almost 20 years ago in his prescient book, "The Third Wave," about the new world that is all around us in 1997. The Third Wave, Toffler said, demands "men and women who accept responsibility, who understand how their work dovetails with that of others, who can handle ever large tasks, who adapt quickly to changed circumstances, and who are sensitively tuned in to the people around them."

Toffler's vision fulfills itself when literate people adapt to and adopt new knowledge for their own happiness and the good of other people.

Reading empowers people to become part of the future and understand the past. Reading, if anything, is more important as the 1997-1998 school year begins than ever before.

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