How to inspire every child to be a lifelong reader | Alvin Irby


As an elementary school teacher, my mom did everything she could
to ensure I had good reading skills. This usually consisted of weekend
reading lessons at our kitchen table while my friends played outside. My reading ability improved, but these forced reading lessons
didn’t exactly inspire a love of reading. High school changed everything. In 10th grade, my regular English class
read short stories and did spelling tests. Out of sheer boredom, I asked
to be switched into another class. The next semester,
I joined advanced English. (Laughter) We read two novels and wrote
two book reports that semester. The drastic difference and rigor
between these two English classes angered me and spurred questions like, “Where did all these
white people come from?” (Laughter) My high school was over
70 percent black and Latino, but this advanced English class
had white students everywhere. This personal encounter
with institutionalized racism altered my relationship
with reading forever. I learned that I couldn’t depend
on a school, a teacher or curriculum to teach me what I needed to know. And more out of like, rebellion,
than being intellectual, I decided I would no longer allow
other people to dictate when and what I read. And without realizing it,
I had stumbled upon a key to helping children read. Identity. Instead of fixating on skills and moving students
from one reading level to another, or forcing struggling readers
to memorize lists of unfamiliar words, we should be asking ourselves
this question: How can we inspire children
to identify as readers? DeSean, a brilliant first-grader
I taught in the Bronx, he helped me understand
how identity shapes learning. One day during math,
I walk up to DeSean, and I say, “DeSean, you’re a great mathematician.” He looks at me and responds, “I’m not a mathematician,
I’m a math genius!” (Laughter) OK DeSean, right? Reading? Completely different story. “Mr. Irby, I can’t read. I’m never going to learn
to read,” he would say. I taught DeSean to read, but there are countless black boys
who remain trapped in illiteracy. According to the US
Department of Education, more than 85 percent
of black male fourth graders are not proficient in reading. 85 percent! The more challenges
to reading children face, the more culturally competent
educators need to be. Moonlighting as a stand-up comedian
for the past eight years, I understand the importance
of cultural competency, which I define as the ability to translate what you want someone else
to know or be able to do into communication or experiences
that they find relevant and engaging. Before going on stage,
I assess an audience. Are they white, are they Latino? Are they old, young,
professional, conservative? Then I curate and modify my jokes based on what I think
would generate the most laughter. While performing in a church,
I could tell bar jokes. But that might not result in laughter. (Laughter) As a society, we’re creating
reading experiences for children that are the equivalent
of telling bar jokes in a church. And then we wonder
why so many children don’t read. Educator and philosopher Paulo Freire believed that teaching and learning
should be two-way. Students shouldn’t be viewed
as empty buckets to be filled with facts but as cocreators of knowledge. Cookie-cutter curriculums
and school policies that require students to sit statue-still or to work in complete silence — these environments often exclude
the individual learning needs, the interest and expertise of children. Especially black boys. Many of the children’s books
promoted to black boys focus on serious topics, like slavery,
civil rights and biographies. Less than two percent of teachers
in the United States are black males. And a majority of black boys
are raised by single mothers. There are literally young black boys
who have never seen a black man reading. Or never had a black man
encourage him to read. What cultural factors,
what social cues are present that would lead
a young black boy to conclude that reading is even
something he should do? This is why I created Barbershop Books. It’s a literacy nonprofit that creates child-friendly
reading spaces in barber shops. The mission is simple: to help young black boys
identify as readers. Lots of black boys go to the barber shop
once or twice a month. Some see their barbers
more than they see their fathers. Barbershop Books connects reading
to a male-centered space and involves black men
and boys’ early reading experiences. This identity-based reading program uses a curated list of children’s books
recommended by black boys. These are the books
that they actually want to read. Scholastic’s 2016 Kids and Family Report found that the number one thing
children look for when choosing a book is a book that will make them laugh. So if we’re serious about helping
black boys and other children to read when it’s not required, we need to incorporate
relevant male reading models into early literacy and exchange some of the children’s books
that adults love so much for funny, silly or even gross books,
like “Gross Greg”. (Laughter) “You call them boogers.
Greg calls them delicious little sugars.” (Laughter) That laugh, that positive reaction or gross reaction some of you just had, (Laughter) black boys deserve
and desperately need more of that. Dismantling the savage inequalities
that plague American education requires us to create reading experiences that inspire all children
to say three words: I’m a reader. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How to inspire every child to be a lifelong reader | Alvin Irby”

  1. There is so much to learn, and my one humble life is just not enough to cover all those subjects.
    So, i would like to quote a thing on my deathbed..Which is,
    " R.I.B. —. REST IN BOOKS"..

  2. Before teaching children how to read, it's more important not to have children outside wedlock. It's the number one reason of black poverty.

  3. Indeed, children should be allowed to choose what they want to read. Instead, school systems all over the world force children to read boring old books, a.k.a. the "classics", which were, for the most part, written for adults several decades (or even centuries) ago. No wonder they never pick up a book afterwards.

  4. The reason blacks don't read as much as white is because we don't have any books written in Wakanda language.

  5. Why is the black culture always related to barbershops? They even made a black movie called Barbershop! As if only curly hair folks are entitled to haircuts.

  6. I could've done with this. Now on my 30's but have a reading age of 7, probably.
    Only problem is that my to read pile is massive, and only getting bigger.

  7. Having reading materials that directly relate to a person's interests is great motivation. This also works when learning a new language.

  8. I love this ! Barbershop Books is an amazing book and I hope that my little brothers encounter a barbershop in NYC that has this.

  9. You are going to have to break through the antintelectual attitude found in too many inner city communities.

  10. And we all know it's impossible to learn a skill without first seeing someone that looks like you perform the skill you want to learn.

    this is sarcasm.

  11. Why does everything have to be about racism? Its not racism, its a cultural issue. Maybe instead of blaming "the whites" you clean your room and take responsibility!

  12. "institutionalized racism". actually, it's a matter of culture and parenting. both whites and asians are more likely to get into advanced classes (and want to do so). sounds like this guy had a good parent who made sure he could read, thus making him interested in the advanced class (versus his friends always playing outside). many black and hispanic parents are not like that. it's not goddamn "institutionalized racism"…

  13. "institutionalized racism"? I don't think so. You stated that all you had to do to get into the class was to ask. So, all any child, or parent, would have to do is take the initiative and have their child placed in the class.

  14. I have read recently that thé highest mean IQ in population do have asian races like Chinese, Japanese. Slightly lower white races and the lowest average is among blacks. But that is just statistically. So there Is Always Hope.

  15. I loved reading since I was a kid but I didn’t know that I had a condition called convergence insufficiency(disorder where eyes don’t convergence usually causing double vision when doing up close tasks). My parents didn’t know about this and thought it could be solved with getting glasses. Educators and parents should be listening more to their kids and try to address anything that is hindering their learning process

  16. all children, as you last line said? Seems a bit of a targeted audience. Single mother homes, are a western cultural problem not a racial issue alone. Feminists have destroyed families and with it we see civilizations once again fall to the insanity.

  17. Teacher at an inner-city school in Canada, here. Many of my students have never seen ANY adult read. Therefore, anytime we have time for silent reading, I am sure to have a novel with me that I can read as well. Help to normalize it for them.

  18. Okay where should I start. Honestly I can't believe this video is on TED talks, how is this an idea worth spreading? Reading magazines in barber shops is absolutely nothing new.
    And give me a break, white kids being good at reading is racist towards black children? How does that make any sense? They are given equal opportunity to read, yet somehow it's racist when white people make the smart decision to read and black people don't, you can blame that on upbringing not racism. If you want to solve this reading problem in black communities stop blaming your community's problems on other entire races, that leads nowhere and fixes nothing. It's a simple matter of to read or not to read, no racism involved.

    How is what you're saying groundbreaking news? People prefer to read stuff that interests them… of course. But like everything else in life you can't just do stuff that is only fun. My school books are sometimes boring yeah but I understand their importance in general education. Sometimes you just have to do stuff you don't like doing that much.

    "Many of the children's books promoted to black boys (why boys exactly?) focus on serious topics like SLAVERY (?????) and civil rights"… I can't believe you said that with a straight face. Who exactly do you think is encouraging any child to read about slavery at that young age? I would be really interested in knowing.

  19. I'm 17 in an urban area and one day I was reading a book on Queen Elizabeth I which is something I'm really interested and my coworker who went to the same school I did said "oh no I could never read that's mad boring". So I told her you just need to read something you're interested in. It gave me a lot of insight as to how teens in urban areas view reading as tedium, rather than something to be enjoyed l. I blame most of this on the Industrializing of Education where schools are more about selling you into a college than learning.

  20. How is this institutionalized racism, minorities are statistically shown to be not be at the same level as white students, don’t use “institutionalized racism” as an excuse

  21. What a great speech from Alvin Irby! As a passionate reader, I think reading is one of the greatest things it the world. Irby really focused on the problem and laid it out for all of us. I found it eyes opening to hear what the situation is in the USA and how different it is where I have grown up. I quote, “I would not no longer allow other people to dictate when and what I read”. I loved this because I think every reader is different and the personalities of individuals should be considered in classrooms. I found the mission of Barbershops Books really inspiring! I hope it will inspire more young boys to read!

  22. And this is why the political predisposition of POC with a strong centralised state is misguided, what masquerades as support, is really just modern chains.

  23. Читать, безусловно, нужно с малых лет, но не до такой степени, чтобы потом всю жизнь ходить в очках.

  24. I was happy and alarmed (85…) to see this talk and initiative
    Misleading title however, I'm an aspiring elementary school teacher and in France this whole talk (apart from stating the obvious, engage and be humorous) is irrelevant to the classroom.

  25. Great idea! Barbershop books..We need to learn more about child psychology to be better parent/teacher..

  26. Cultural competency…the ability to translate what you want someone else to know or to be able to do into communication or experiences that they define as relevant and engaging.

  27. Just because more white went on to high school than blacks and latino doesnt make it instituionalized racism. Racism has become a buzzword for situations where race isnt actually involved, but the white guy got it anyways. Jeezus.

    Good talk tho.

  28. I can't speak to the school he said he went to, but he clearly lays out the facts that the black culture is not a reading one and that he is taking steps to change this. To call this "institutionalized racism", to blame white people for a defect in black culture is irresponsible.

  29. I thought that skin color doesn't matter. After watching this video I finally understood how awfully wrong I was. I found that black boys need special books for black boys. Black boys need black man as their role model. Who knows what else black boys need but it certainly has to be black.

  30. I'm an Italian teacher of English…. in a school I was criticised for using YouTube videos about gaming for young male students… at the end of the year my students had really improved their English…. no word lists can work as much as feeling interested in something and part of a community…. in another class we watched the bbc coverage of the world cup… same result. Boys and girls learn in a different way but somehow female teachers like me only provide effective teaching material only for the female student population…I am trying to think outside the box to reach out to our male students who for the most part come from underpriviledged families who know very limited English but reinventing our job listening to our students isn't that easy… especially for white middle-class women from educated families … but believe me a lot of us are trying their best given that we cannot change gender, colour or our social background

  31. @1:10 What does institutionalized racism has to do with having too many white folks in the advanced reading class? It is not like black people aren't allowed to attend advanced reading class, right? If he wants to see more black kids in reading classes, isn't it better to just tell black parents to encourage reading, learning and education in general than to blame another race?

  32. Letting children read books they enjoy is so important!
    My "British" school introduced a reading system where we would need to do tests on books we read- it proved if we actually read and understood the book. I was given a low level- I never knew why- suddenly I was forced to read books much simpler than the ones I read before. I couldn't bother to understand the book, I kept getting 6/10 and 7/10.
    I struck a deal with a teacher, "Let me read books on that level for the next 3 weeks. If my tests are 9/10 and 10/10 only- I get to move to this level."
    My scores were 10, 10, 9. She refused to acknowledge the deal at first- but I told the librarian, my friends and another teacher- she had to acknowledge my request. I never got a score below an 8/10 after that.

  33. With all due respect, your initiative should not be confined to Black boys only. You must understand that education, health and environment are something that every human being is entitled to. So I hope your mission covers every being irrespective of colour, religion and nationality. Good luck

  34. It breaks my heart when I talk to children who say that they hate reading or even when I speak with adults who proclaim that reading is “boring”. It’s all about finding what interests you. For many, that may be reading science fiction and for others, that may be memoirs. I have never picked up Harry Potter a day in my life and still, I love to read! The best way to find what works for you is to READ.

  35. As a teacher who teach reading and phonics, the struggle is real especially with learners younger than 5 years old. But, I let my students choose what they want to do with the passage. As they have purpose to read, their comprehensive skills is getting much better.

  36. Stop blaming white people. You have the power to change if you want. Personal responsibility. I am not white by the way. Leftist ideas keep you with a slave mentality.

  37. Wtf about advanced English is institutionalized racism?

    Look, ON AVERAGE, BLACK PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO ATTEND ADVANCED ENGLISH.

    You’re not going to convince black people to attend advanced english by telling them it’s an environment that hates them.

  38. We adopted Paulo Freire in our Schools in Brazil a long time ago. Now, we are on the latest position in the World Education list. Paulo Freire was an adept of Antonio Gramcys which was a Marxist. Now you know why this guy is talking a lot of "black people", latins , etc. Don't let this good talk fool you. Paulo Freire is a fraud.

  39. why must we inspire them to be readers? is it not better to inspire them to be ever so curious & questioning? the reading part will come along later.

  40. You asked to join "advanced english" and got what you wanted, no problem.. and you still call ‘institutionalized racism’. My only outtake is that it’s a culture difference, institutionalized racism would be if you couldn’t join the class…

  41. I'm a brown Asian from Pakistan. I have a sister that's 4 years old. I cannot find children in children's books that look like us. What's more disappointing is that even the few Urdu (Pakistan language) books we own have white animated children.

  42. I could not agree more. Students should learn from all types of writers. We have excluded science, math, and many other contents from reading in school. I love your smart thinking and the action that you are taking. The misinformed comments below makes me realize how much work we really do have ahead of us in raising up the next generation of adults. We all need to see each other for who we are and want to be as Readers!

  43. But laughter will never make these booger-eaters Steve Jobs, or Elon Musks. Elon Musk had read several encyclopedias from cover to cover, not comics books. This is crazy what you are proposing.

  44. She was nervous of reading in the beginning – worried of being wrong. However, after Two months of adhering to this “Wamzοzο Loli” (Gοοgle it) reading guide, she can read by herself beginner novels. It’s amazing to see the outcome and results of the training. The program is wonderful for any age level…
    .

  45. I started training my very own boy to learn to read at 14 months. Even though I`m hesitant about training him how to read some things at a very young age, I made the decision to apply it and made use of this studying tip “Wamzοzο Loli” (Gοοgle it). And now that he is two years and 4 months old, he can read an entire book without having me helping him..
    .

  46. My boy still has difficulty reading some books despite the fact that he managed to graduate from kindergarten. The instructor were feeling issues he may be able to enroll grade and also advised to hold back. Gratefully, we found this reading guideline “Wamzοzο Loli” (Gοοgle it). His reading capabilities are great for a 1st grader and also his progress truly shocked the teacher. Our coach discussed our story to the people..
    .

  47. It’s not really a secret to anyone who recognizes my hubby since he shares the stories of his son’s learning skills even at a very early age. We educate our son the way to read by using this particular reading manual “Wamzοzο Loli” (Gοοgle it). Prior to our boy goes to bed, we read him a textbook but now, it is completely the opposite. He`s the one choosing the book to read and also he is reading through to us, rather..
    .

  48. My son was picked for reading support services in first grade. This excellent reading guide “Wamzοzο Loli” (Gοοgle it) has assisted a whole lot in developing the learning abilities of my son while he`s just on grade level and his development extremely impressed his reading instructor. I wish the instructor had put to use this system in school…
    .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *