James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author (well over 350 million copies) and I have something in common – a belief that literacy is crucial for the success of everyone. Patterson was interviewed at the Literacy Instruction For Texas (LIFT) event that I attended last fall.
Patterson is a passionate advocate for literacy, having donated millions to the cause, whether it be creating programs for teachers, scholarships, books for children and young adults, or providing Internet reading resources. Literacy is a common denominator we share.
One of the first things Patterson talked about was the program geared toward teachers that he and his wife, Susan, created at her alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. “For one thing, for teachers obviously the money isn’t great, and teachers come out of school with big debt,” Patterson said. “The way it works is Wisconsin has problems getting teachers, too. If you graduate from Wisconsin with an education degree, if you teach in the state, the first year we forgive 25% of your debt, the second year we forgive 25% more. After four years we’ve gotten rid of your debt, which is a great program.”
The way I personally approach the literacy challenge is via my endowment solely aimed at giving lower income children (all enrolled in programs at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation) the necessary supplies they need when going back to school. The goal behind the Inspiring a Vision of Learning Fund is to ensure every child starts the school year with all the necessary supplies – notebooks, crayons, pencil, pens, erasers, highlighters, calculators — helping them develop a solid foundation to succeed in school. I’m committed for the long haul, so in the future and after I’m gone, those tools will most likely look much different as technology evolves. Certainly, I’m not at the same level as the Pattersons in providing support in the learning journey, but it’s a beginning. The endowment is the most important work I will ever do and keeping it solidly funded is my next goal.
Technology has also greatly altered the book landscape. Conscious of the impact TV consumption has had on reading, Patterson and his wife turned their focus to getting books that kids like to read into their hands. In 2015 Patterson founded the kids imprint Jimmy Patterson books. Says the author, “We had a very simple vision with Jimmie – when a kid finishes a Jimmie book, they say, ‘Please give me another book,’ as opposed to kids who have never read a book in their lives. There’s no reason why we can’t teach kids to read with material they find both interesting and informative.”
Hooking kids on reading will have far-reaching implications, asserts Patterson: “If we accomplish that—just that—we will dramatically increase the number of kids who finish high school in this country and thus have a better chance of going on to college or getting better jobs. We will create a more informed populace, with better citizens, better voters, better workers, better parents—better human beings.”
Mr. Patterson’s and my goals are the same: improve literacy to create a stronger, more humane society. With all the jazzy distractions of cellphones, computers, movies, television, and video games, exposing kids to the wonderful world of books and reading is crucial for future generations.