Show Them What They’ll Get Out Of This

Most schools and most parents teach reading all wrong. They bully kids into doing it. They pressure them. They tell them, “Reading is what smart and successful people do.” Then they’re surprised when kids who struggled with reading don’t think they’re smart, and they wonder why kids almost wear illiteracy as a badge of honor. They wonder why people say things like, “I haven’t read a book since I was forced to in high school.”

No, ​the way to teach a kid to read​ is not to talk about how wonderful literature is and force them to read fancy or pretentious novels. You teach a kid to love books by—as the great lover of books Robert Greene has said—appealing to their self-interest. Show them what they will get out of books.Tangibly. Immediately. Show them that quote from Warren Buffet, where he says the single best investment he ever made was buying a copy of Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor.

Better yet, find them a book that will have a big payoff for them. Joe Biden has talked about how reading ​about Demosthenes​ helped him overcome his stutter—you think an experience like that, early on, doesn’t turn a person into a reader for life? Find them books that will entertain them. That will help them get a boy or a girl to like them. That will make them laugh. That will piss their teachers off.

Focus on the ROI—because that’s what books are, investments. You put down a few dollars, commit several hours, and you get something back. In some cases, that might be a lovely experience with the English language, but for most books and most readers, the reason for reading is far more tactile. It’s about learning a skill. It’s about feeling less alone. ​It’s about improving yourself​. It’s about solving a problem.

To get your kids to read, ​you have to be a reader,​ of course. But you also have to show them what they will get out of books. Or else why would they bother?

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