Literacy advocates and why we should remember them

Authors. Writers. Books. Poems. Literature History. Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

I started reading at an early age and can remember falling in love with books and writing before I can remember falling in love with anything else. In fact, as a kid, I recall romanticizing my future life by imagining that I was an old writer who would sit under a tall oak tree in my parents’ front yard thinking and jotting ideas down in a journal (I have no idea why I thought this, but probably because it sounds cool and writerly and glamorized).

Anyway, the only reason I really picked up writing at an early age was because I had a “literacy advocate” in the form of my mother and a supportive elementary school that emphasized reading and comprehension. But what is a literacy advocate, you ask? To put it simple: it is somebody who supports you reading and writing journey.

Why they are important

When I was teaching composition, one of the first essays I had students write was an essay on literacy advocates (the subject of this essay was recommended to me by a host of other writing teachers). The idea was to make students reflect on their lifetime of reading and writing behavior in an organic way. What I discovered was that most students had negative perceptions about reading or writing from prior experiences with teachers, parents, or particular classes they took; however, most of them had somebody in their life that told them reading, writing, and learning was important.

Many of the students pointed to their mothers or grandmothers because they were the ones that helped them read their first books and write their first sentences. Other students who felt that they lacked a literacy advocate pointed to stern teachers or parents who were too unrealistic and peremptory (or not enough) when it came to reading and writing.

So, while the experiences were varied, students all had stories to share, both good and bad, about how they first approached reading and writing.

The takeaway

The overall point to make about a literacy advocate is that they support us in learning an extremely complex skill, which, in turn, helps us in the future because we can associate positive moments with our learning (we don’t think about reading or writing as a chore but as something that is important to our success). It should go without saying that adults in our formative years have a huge impact on who we are and who we will become, and their intellectual impact can change the way we think about the world and ourselves, from how we act in society to how we read or write.