If there is one constant throughout the work of Ernest L. Boyer it is his empahsis on the mastery of language. He stressed it in speeches and featured it prominently in Carnegie Foundation publications like Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation, High School: Secondary Education in America, and College: The Undergraduate Experience. Whether his work pertained to primary education, secondary education, or college, language was a key element regardless. Boyer spoke candidly of his own personal joy learning to read while attending Miss Rice’s first grade class. His earliest introduction of language obviously made a lasting impression and, from an outsider’s perspective, established a sort of lifelong love affair. Language was the key to not only a quality education, but a quality life. In the words of Boyer, “…language defines our humanity.”
Combining his leadership in the field of education and his deep personal love of language, Boyer promoted literacy throughout his entire career. At the 1988 Virginia State Library and Archives Literacy Conference, he reminded the crowd that advocating for literacy went beyond the mechanics of learning to read. That is merely the surface issue. But beyond that is comprehension and the ability to make connections. “Literacy means the ability to think clearly and creatively, and engage in constructive discourse. Above all, we need integrity in literacy – an understanding that the use of language is a sacred trust.” Language is a tool all humans use, all day, every day. Have you ever considered it a sacred trust? My guess is most of us view it as a common necessity. Boyer reminds us, though, that it is anything but a necessity. It is the fount of emotion. It is the source of connection. It is the key to life.
Read Boyer’s entire speech delivered at the 1988 Virginia State Library and Archives Literacy Conference, “Today we learn to read.”