Art is a communication tool often overlooked

Harry Croghan - Contributing Columnist

Two thousand years ago all books were hand copied one at a time. Any books at that time were highly valued and only a few people in the world could read.

We don’t think much about that today. Almost everyone we know can read, or can they? We are entering an age of assumptions. We think if they attended school they can read. This assumption is not true. In fact, as our population in many minority communities increase, we are actually moving backwards. Even though we now have lots of books, we are having less and less people who know how to read them.

I see this especially in the male prison population where I volunteer teaching art. As I try to relate ideas, I see a lot of blank looks. When I started to help them make cue cards on some easy facial features, I needed to spell out almost everything that had to do with the words of explanation. I was expecting some to have difficulties but the actual number of those who had very limited reading and writing ability was more than I ever imagined.

The schools, teachers and the system had greatly failed to teach these men the very basics of understanding what life is all about. Crime is simple so many of them were exposed to that part of their environment. Most of them did not understand the law or the penalties that would face them.

I literally became sick at heart over this overwhelming reality. As a substitute teacher when I retired I had seen a big decline in learning and discipline in the public schools and here in the prison is the end results. This should not be.

Before we taught reading to the general public the church relied on visuals to tell of the Biblical stories of teaching. Murals, sculptures and stained glass windows told visually what the Bible said to the artists, priests and a few educated laymen. These visuals were good workable tools of teaching and understanding. Today many of our places of worship are void of these teaching tools because now there are printed books and a lot of people can read them but not all.

In the old, one-room schools children did not advance to the next learning level until they had learned their present lessons. That is not the case in the new modern day school. Children are pushed through the system for various reasons and not all because of mastery at a certain level. The all-in-one room school had many of the advantages that our modern system doesn’t have anymore.

We need to seriously reevaluate what we are doing about reading.

Harry Croghan is an artist, photographer, writer and teacher. He can be reached at 740-852-4906 or by e-mail at

Harry Croghan

Contributing Columnist