While I was subbing in a second grade classroom last week, a parent of one of my students informed me that her daughter had read my most recent column. Of course, I was flattered that the child had wanted to read the musings of her substitute teacher, but I was also seriously impressed that a seven-year-old would challenge herself to read from a newspaper.

Travis Naughton

The girl had asked her mother for help with a few words she wasn’t familiar with, but otherwise, she was able to read the piece and understand it. Clearly, the child has had some exceptional teachers who have helped her become a proficient reader. It is also clear to me that she has some exceptional role models at home who have not only taught her the value of reading, but also the importance of journalism.

In an age when the president of the United States repeatedly calls the free press “the enemy of the American people” and praises politicians for physically assaulting reporters, as was the case last week when Donald Trump celebrated Montana congressman Greg Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter on the campaign trail, it is heartening to know there are parents who resist these attacks on free expression by encouraging their children to read newspapers.

But today’s column is not about the president or politics. It is about a young girl attending Southern Boone Primary School. The remainder of this piece is addressed directly to her:

Dear friend,

Thank you so much for reading my column in last week’s Boone County Journal, and thank you so much for being you. In the years that I have had the pleasure of being your substitute teacher, I have delighted in witnessing your growth as a student and as a human being. You have always been respectful and attentive in class, and you have always been a role model for your classmates.

However, I am more interested in your future than in your past. Believe it or not, a lot of grown-ups don’t read newspapers anymore. In fact, there is a disturbing number of grown-ups who don’t read much of anything at all. When I think about that fact, I worry for the children of those people, and I worry about the future of our society. But when I think about you and your love of reading, I feel better.

Kids like you will grow up to be the leaders of tomorrow. It is important that our leaders read and learn as much as they can so that they will be as informed as possible when they make decisions. A great way to stay informed is by reading newspapers. I can already tell that you, my young friend, would be an excellent leader.

I think you would be an excellent writer or journalist, too. It would make my heart so happy to read your words in a newspaper someday. Journalism is protected in this country by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees that we Americans have the right to say or write whatever we feel, without worrying about the government punishing us for it. The freedom of speech (including the freedom of the press) is one of the most powerful rights we have.

You may have heard that there are many countries in the world that do not acknowledge these rights. There are places where writers and journalists are thrown in prison or physically harmed for speaking out against their governments. (Many of these countries also have unfair laws that prevent women from having the same rights as men.) It is the duty of journalists everywhere to bring injustices to light, so that the world will be a better place for everyone.

Perhaps you will be one of those brave journalists someday. Perhaps you will be the first female president of the United States (although I don’t want to wait another thirty years to have a woman as president.) I am positive that you’ll be great at whatever you decide to do with your life. When young people like yourself appreciate the value of the written word, there is reason to be optimistic about the future.

Thank you again for reading my column, my friend. I’m honored that you are interested in what I write in the paper, and I’m proud of you for being the well-read, fun-loving, and kind-hearted person that you are.

Your friend,

Mr. Naughton