When my 14-year-old son told me that he was reading J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" for his freshman English class, I gulped. I knew what was coming next.

Have you read it, Dad?


For the next week, I listened to my son complain about the book. It made me curious. While my near total blindness makes reading difficult, an audiobook of the 1951 classic was available, and I settled back for a long listen.

Almost immediately, I understood what my son disliked about the book. It was the disaffected youthful narrator, Holden Caulfield, who spends most of his time complaining about everything from school to girls to Jesus' disciples. Holden, the angst-ridden Everyteen, seems to hate anything that moves.

Since I liked the book — and the whole idea of my reading it was to be able to discuss it with my son — our discussions quickly turned into debates.

What were we really debating? After one of our debates, it occurred to me that we were arguing about more than a book. We were arguing about the value of reading. And our private debate was part of a broader public debate over the value of reading. Its outcome will shape our society and culture for generations.

Today, according to a 2012 survey by the National Endowment for the Humanities ("Reading at Risk"), the number of readers has declined significantly over the past three decades. As we continued our discussions, I realized that I had an important role to play in my son's reading habits and education.

His school, Credo High School in Rohnert Park, was founded in 2011 to provide public Waldorf education to teens in Sonoma County. We chose Credo because it focuses on a comprehensive approach to education that integrates the arts and sciences. In an increasingly technology-oriented society, we believed it was important to provide our son with the opportunity to discover the vital interplay between the arts and science.

Reading is important to both of these, not only because it lays a foundation of knowledge that is necessary for any career, but also because it opens the mind to imagination, creativity and innovation.

Lacking them, a career in any field of the arts or sciences is doomed to mediocrity.

The experience of reading Salinger's book with my son made me wonder if there were other areas in which I could encourage him to value reading. The newspaper became my ally. In history class, he was studying past revolutions in America, France and Russia. So I asked him to read articles in The Press Democrat about current revolutions in Egypt, Ukraine and Syria. Afterward, we discussed the similarities and differences between past and contemporary revolutions. We're also planning to use the newspaper to better understand subjects he is studying in environmental science.

Our discussions taught me some valuable lessons about education.

First, parents must play an active role in teaching basic values to their children, such as the love of reading, if they're expected to excel in school and career.

Second, it's never too late to learn. I hope that one of the values that I'm teaching my son is a lifelong love of learning.

I encourage other parents to pick up a book their child is reading in school; read (or re-read) it, and discuss it with them. Do the same thing with the newspaper.