Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Writing Life: This Election Season Literacy Should be a Campaign Issue

By JJ Murphy

Former President Lyndon Johnson said, “A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.”

I agree.

I turned off my TV set a long time ago. With a Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism, I know the difference between journalism, entertainment and satire.

I do treat myself to the occasional Internet download from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” which is where I saw the image of a Republican Party primary delegate holding a “Raisin McCain” sign. I laughed and cringed simultaneously. That sign needed either an apostrophe or a letter “g” after the “n” in Raisin.

Are we really that proud of becoming increasingly illiterate? I won’t digress into my disgust at the name calling and posturing, instead of serious discussion, about what each candidate proposes to do to solve our nation’s current problems.

I remember reading Eldridge Cleaver’s controversial Soul On Ice in high school. My parents were horrified at some of the ideas that came up at the dinner table. They presented their opposing points. They did not forbid me to read the book, or insist that the book be banned from the library. How could I possibly gain an insight into the world of people I’d never met without reading their books?

I am horrified to learn that Governor (and vice presidential nominee), Sarah Palin, fired a librarian who refused to censor or ban library books. When I was growing up, education was the most important investment our local, state and federal governments could make. Schools set up field trips, published student literary magazines and newspapers, supported a debate team and a drama club, as well as intramural sports.

In my lifetime, I’ve watched as reading skills, and the resulting joy in reading, have declined. A 10-second “sound bite” does not provide the same opportunity for deep thinking that you find in the written word.

As we enter the last phase of this election season, the only issue that really matters to me is respect for the English language. In an ideal world, all ideas are available for consideration and discussion. As a writer, I feel a tremendous urgency to advocate for placing value on the written word, spelling, grammar and the joy of reading. I’ll support the candidates who support our writers, librarians and champions of the written word.

Writer and naturalist JJ Murphy,, offers creative nature curriculum, wild food recipes, fiction, poetry, articles and writing services for individuals, entrepreneurs, small businesses and ecologically aware companies.

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