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A good book, or time out at public expense

By Staff
Mississippi has a secure place in the annals of American literature, the visual and performing arts, music. Many writers describe a sense of place … a feeling, a quality of life, a home to come back to … as uniquely Mississippi.
So, why is it that so many of our young people can't read?
Why is it that in this home place of literary giants such as William Faulkner, Margaret Walker Alexander and Eudora Welty; popular writers such as John Grisham and Greg Iles; actors such as Morgan Freeman and Sela Ward reading is anything but fundamental?
Sour note
Here in this home of such great talent lies a sour taste, like swamp gas at the dinner table. Here in this place of great works, so many still lack basic skills that the joke is after the ninth grade, you either choose high school or the criminal justice system.
That, of course, is a crude, simplistic, unrealistic assessment. And yet, fundamental problems remain.
Knowing that a good book is a much better choice than time out at public expense, the Barksdale Reading Institute at the University of Mississippi is taking a proactive stance. Claiborne Barksdale, CEO, knows something about this subject and shared his comments Tuesday with members of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation.
Most of what he said is reported elsewhere in today's edition of The Meridian Star. But he made a point worth mentioning in this space: Help must begin early.
New strategies
That's why the institute which bears the Barksdale family name was launched, with a $100 million endowment by his brother, Jim, who once headed Netscape. But the work of the institute is not so much about money as it is about employing new strategies, tireless efforts and a strong commitment to improving the abilities of young Mississippians to read.
Our state has many financial obligations and chooses not to invest in public pre-kindergarten education, one of only two Southern states to do so. This may help explain why so many children reach kindergarten without having even the most basic skills to learn how to read properly.
The Barksdale Reading Institute is developing programs to address such early developmental problems. It is important work and deserves a stronger commitment from all of us.