Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the western world was plunged into darkness and chaos. This period known as the Dark Ages was, besides the general decline in economic and social cohesion, characterized by the dramatic disappearance of cultural life. Nothing describes this historic change in a more lucid way than the fact that within the relatively short span of time, the civilization of a vast literary tradition made way to the world, where even kings and high nobility could not read or write a word.
This unpleasant situation persisted for a few centuries during which time the until then rich literary work was relegated to monasteries flourishing all over Europe and thematically confined to Christian religion and the life of saints. In essence, Europe, from the top ranks to the very bottom, went illiterate.
The return to the world of widespread literacy was long and painful. Latin, the language common to the clergy and intellectuals of the time, was unspoken by general populace. Based on the dialects and the talk of common people, new languages came into being, gradually acquiring codified written forms. These languages later solidified the whole populations inhabiting large territories, moulding them into more homogeneous societies with the natural consequence of the rise of the national states.
However, it was not until the invention of the printing press by Guttenberg in the 15th century that the printed word became affordable and thus accessible to broader population, bringing with it revolution in the dissemination of information and knowledge. But even at this time books remained out of reach for the people of lower social standing.
Thus there were times in our not so distant history, when the written word was considered magic and the art of reading and writing a precious skill. He who learnt to read could then acquire further knowledge about things which went beyond his everyday experience. And the same stands good today – being capable of reading, one can change himself, for better or worse, in terms of knowledge, practical or not.
Nowadays, we are living in the world where what once was an unattainable luxury has now become bare minimum – almost everyone can read. Alas, not many do. We are witnessing a troubling change in attitude towards reading. People only read when they have to. We are getting the unsettling reports of the worrying trend with some 60% of the school attending or graduated young people not being able to comprehend simple written texts.
As a teacher of the foreign language I can attest to the fact that reading is the most powerful tool a student can get to acquire full understanding of the target language in a relatively short period of time. Not only do I recommend but rather insist that my students keep reading in order to facilitate their vocabulary and grammar during the learning process.
I believe in self-education. I believe a man, given enough time and personal motivation, can learn almost anything. Once you can read and then you do read, you are making a progress and an improvement on your being not only an educated man but also a better human being.