The ability to communicate and pass along knowledge is one of our greatest gifts. It is how one generation builds on the knowledge of the previous one.
These days I am communicating with a man who has been dead nearly 400 years, a Spanish author named Miguel de Cervantes.
He wrote the famous novel, Don Quixote, which tells the tale of a mad knight errant and his loveable squire, Sancho Panza, who set off in search of grand adventures in medieval Spain.
Most people know of at least one of Quixote’s zany adventures: the time he mistook a windmill for an evil giant and attacked it while riding on his loyal horse, Rocinante.
The giant, or rather the windmill, easily won the encounter. In fact, poor Don Quixote and the proverb-spewing Sancho Panza came up short in most of their outlandish adventures.
Don Quixote was published in 1605, so it certainly qualifies as an old tome. But thanks to Cervantes’ ability to write, and my ability to read, he and I have been enjoying each other’s company in spite of the 400-year gap from the time the book was published and the time I am reading it.
Four hundred years is a long time in human history, and over that period many things have changed, but in reading the book a couple of things stand out.
One that never ceases to surprise me is that the sarcasm and humour used by Cervantes rings as true today as in his time. Take this quote from Sancho Panza, “Whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it’s bad luck for the pitcher.” The things I chuckled about could be coming from a novel written this year.
The other obvious lesson is that literacy was as important in Cervantes’ era as it is today. Literacy then, and today, equates power — personal power. People who are literate generally have an easier time living their lives and finding their place in society, or at least finding peace in their soul.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, a large group of P.E.I. volunteers will be fanning out across the province to demonstrate their belief in the importance of literacy. The annual Postmedia Raise-a-Reader Day, sponsored on Prince Edward Island by The Guardian and The Journal Pioneer newspapers, will see volunteers set up shop at a number of coffee shops, restaurants and street corners where they will be seeking donations to help promote literacy.
We raise money by exchanging newspapers for literacy donations, with all the proceeds staying on P.E.I. (PS, don’t tell anyone, but we’ll even give you a paper if you don’t have any change or only have enough for your morning java jolt.)
Given the fact it is 2013, not 1605, it’s hard to believe over 40 per cent of adult Canadians surveyed struggle with basic reading skills, or that 30 per cent of P.E.I. adults have reading skills so limited they have trouble dealing with most printed material.
We have been holding Raise-a-Reader days for a number of years now, and as a result of the generosity of Islanders thousands of dollars have been raised, which in turn have been handed over to the P.E.I. Literacy Alliance to help fund many worthwhile projects. So if you happen to see us early Wednesday morning, give us a smile and help your fellow Islanders acquire the precious gift of knowledge.
As Sancho Panza would say, “a bird in the hand is better than a vulture in the air.” I’m translating that to mean whatever money we are given next Wednesday will be more than we started the day with. And that will be good news for literacy.
Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at email@example.com.