Reading at the Dinner Table


This is the 13th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the original ad.

at the dinner
table, read
out loud to
your family.
Tomorrow night,
let another member
read something.
A news story.
A Bible verse.
A Robert Frost poem.
A cereal box panel.
History. Humor.
Each night a different
family member can read
a selection.
Imagine the wide range
of subjects your family
will read in 365 days.
What a stimulating way
to have your children
develop good
reading habits.
We have 23 million
illiterate adults
in America.
We wouldn’t have one,
if each of them had
been served reading
as part of their nightly diet.
It’s non-fattening,
But enriching.
And it doesn’t cost
a dime.

The ad recommends that at dinner tonight we read something out loud to our family. Then tomorrow night, let someone else read something. It doesn’t matter what is read; it just matters that the family is spending time together, and that the value of reading is recognized. You are asked to imagine the wide range of topics that would be covered in a year.

The post also points out that there were 23 million illiterate adults in the U.S. (1980). What I find incredible, and disheartening, is that that number has increased nearly 40% in the past 35 years.

According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.

According to the Department of Justice, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” The stats back up this claim: 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level, according to

So once again, Harry Gray’s words are as true and important now as they were in 1980.

If you are looking for ways to help, I can highly recommend Donors Choose. Donors Choose is an online crowdfunding site for teachers. Teachers request funding for specific needs in their classrooms, and then donors can choose how much they would like to contribute to that campaign. Here is a link to a listing of requests from teachers in Philadelphia schools that focus on literacy:

DonorsChoose listing of literacy requests in Philadelphia

One of the best features of DonorsChoose is receiving a thank you note not only from a very grateful teacher, but from each student in the classroom as well. My wife and I have funded literacy, math, art, and gym requests in the past couple of years, and we love getting those thank you notes in the mail.

As for reading at the dinner table tonight, I’m thinking of going with “Debits and Credits – The Heart and Soul of Double Entry Bookkeeping”. There’s nothing like having a captive audience.

Here is the original United Technologies ad that inspired this post.

3 thoughts on “Reading at the Dinner Table

  1. Since January, i have read your posts each day and have enjoyed and have learned a great deal.. This one completely tops the cake!! Yes i actually recall it from 1980 and the statistics overwhelmed me then and still do today.. I am not quit certain about the protocol here– but am compelled to share far and wide..Permission to share and acknowledge you?? Until the next time. Thank you for your diligence and acumen. Best,e


    1. Hi Estelle, Thank you for your kind words, and feel free to share away. The statistics are sobering, both for the sheer number and for the fact that it hasn’t improved in 30 years. Let’s hope in 30 years the stats will have improved dramatically.


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