Thursday 22 August, 2019

A view from the outside: Is reading comprehension a lost art?

                                                                   With Karyl Walker


Reading maketh the man, woman and child

It is becoming increasingly clear that the simple act of reading and understanding what was read is fast becoming lost on an uncomfortably vast number of Jamaicans.

This is astounding, as in this age of information, an age where information is virtually at their fingertips, many of our country’s citizens seem lost. This is a major part of Jamaica’s problems, reading or the lack thereof.

The Jamaicans of my generation and those who came before and some after, were brought up on reading. A book was our best friend. We had no smart phones, no colour television and a grand total of one television channel that signed off at 12 midnight. There were only two radio stations. So naturally we found other ways to keep occupied and entertained during our formative years.

A book shelf stacked with novels and other works was a must have in many homes. In school, we were forced to read passages and short stories and relate to our educators what we understand from what we read. It was called comprehension – another word for understanding.

For research, we took to the Encyclopedia Britannica; for those of us whose parents could not afford one, the library was our next best bet. I have personally read almost every edition of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the First Aid in English, the Bible, the Playboy Magazine, Hustler, the Nick Carter series and almost every comic book which was available to me. My personal favourite was Conan the Barbarian. The Gleaner and, later, the Daily News were a must read and I remember having to read the newspaper for my grandmother many a day. It was not that she could not read, but it was a test to see just how much I could handle the language and understand it.

It is amazing that, in this day and age, when technology has advanced to the stage of a kindle – the hand held device which can store hundreds of books in digital form - that Jamaicans seem to have turned their backs on reading.

Anyone with a smart phone and wifi access have Wikipedia and other forms of research material right at their fingertips. Yet Jamaicans seem not to be reading.

Now, I am not saying my people are dunce, but they seem to be lazy to read anything that contains more than 25 words and is not written in the language of text. The abbreviated forms of words such as idk (I don’t know) U (you) and so on.

I stand corrected, but for the life of me, I cannot believe, based on the responses by some of the readers who comment on my columns, that they did in fact read and comprehend what was written.

Take for instance a recent article which was written about the Mayor of Lauderdale Lakes in Florida, Jamaican-born Hazelle Rogers, who tried to instill pride of country in Jamaicans by urging them to think carefully before migrating to the United States as things were not as rosy as they appeared. The responses to Rogers were overwhelmingly disappointing and pointed to the fact that whoever those commentators were, they clearly did not read the article. They probably read the headline and flew off the handle to jump on social media and lambast the woman.

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The same can be said about those who responded to a recent column which called out female deejay Spice after her tiff with an online media personality over what she felt was unkind to her. Her response was in fact much less than ladylike, and her fans became irate and took to social media to lambast me for daring to correct their idol.

From their response, it was clear they did not read the column. In it I mentioned that Spice was a good mother who took part in her children education and also that she seemed to have a command of the english language and should have been more responsible and ladylike in voicing her disdain, especially in such a public forum.

Instead I was given the same instructions as was given to the young online journalist. Not that it fazes me, and I care not one biscuit what people say or think about me at this stage of my life, having been battle hardened through years of stomping the journalistic pavement.

Then in an effort to educate and inform those same ‘dancehall’ fans about the origins of the genre they were frothing at the mouth to defend against any criticism, constructive or otherwise, I penned a piece about the origins of dancehall. Needless to say, only persons of a certain age cohort responded. The younger fans again spurned an opportunity to know their history. 

It is interesting to note that the artiste who the majority of younger fans have hailed as the ruler of modern dancehall, Vybz Kartel, is by no means a dunce and seems to have done his fair share of reading. If you so blindly idolize Kartel and imitate many of his commands, why not do as he does and read?

Jamaicans, if we do not use the resources at our disposal to educate and inform ourselves about crucial issues affecting our country and our lives, or about those that are of interest to us, then we will forever be doomed to be carriers of wood and hewers of water in the general scheme of life.

Let us throw cold water on an argument put forth by those who would seek to oppress our race and fool us into believing that we are not fit for certain roles, that if you want to hide something from black people, put it in a book.

We now have kindles, smartphones, tablets and all kinds of devices to garner information.

Wake up and live.

That is my view from the outside.

Karyl Walker is a multi-award-winning journalist who has worked for Loop Jamaica, the Jamaica Observer, the RJR Communications Group and Nationwide Radio among other media entities. He now resides in South Florida.

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