While many families have a sense that something is terribly amiss as they try to raise children in today’s America, 81-year-old Pat Milley has been delivering practical help for several generations of children and their parents– well before Tik Tok and YouTube and the talking screen had begun causing confusion.
Around 1947, Julius Rosenwald, chairman of Sears Roebuck, told his friend, best-selling author and motivational guru Dale Carnegie, one of the life lessons he had learned running the then-huge retail enterprise. Carnegie used it in his next book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living:
“If you have a lemon, make lemonade.”
For teacher Patricia Milley, the U.S. Supreme Court handed people of faith two big lemons with its decision in 1962 to ban prayer in public schools, and in 1963 with its decision to ban reading of Bible verses in public schools.
Four years earlier, studying the Education Department of the University of South Carolina, Milley had learned to teach the whole child, including his or her spirituality. Now that educational element was missing.
In 1984, coming home to Horry County (important note: it’s pronounced “orry,” and if you include the “H” when you say the name, you will be labeled an outsider by a historically tight-knit community), Milley started teaching third grade. She was ready to make educational “lemonade,” with a practice that has become even more important because of the electronic technology developed since then.
Milley’s idea was direct: if the Bible, and the celebration of religion, could not be taught in the schools, then it should be done at home.
It sounds simple – and amorphous. How would, how should, how could, parents bring religion to their children in their own homes? As famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said (being unwittingly literal), “God is in the details.”
The details, Milley thought, were and are simple, indeed. Parents should read to their children.
After all, every study done on the effects of parents reading to their children showed extraordinary benefit to the child.
But what should they read? Milley had the answer: the Bible, of course, but also two books tailored to younger readers. Kenneth Taylor’s The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, first published in 1956 (it has sold more than 70 million copies through 2020), tailored for children 4 to 7, and The Egermeier’s Bible Story Book, originally published in 1922, revised in 1963.
In 1986 Milley began personally bringing Bibles, and the two storybooks, to her students at their homes. Thirty-five years later, she’s still at it.
As important as her work was in 1986, it is infinitely more so today. Layering on top of family fragmentation and two-parent working families is how parents interact with their children when they are home with them. Social media, participated individually on phones and computers, has become a strange new form of “otherness.”
The negative effects of social media on teenagers are making headlines, and studies show that children as young as eight are spending as much as seven hours a day “on” their phones, in part because using social media is addictive.
Those children are not hearing their parents’ loving voices. They are not being introduced to the Scriptures. They are taking selfies, posting on Instagram and Facebook, and looking for “likes” and “dislikes,” often triggering negative emotional responses.
A nation-wide study of over 4,000 children showed that those who were read to by their parent or parents had higher reading skills: “Parental reading to children increases the child’s reading and other cognitive skills at least up to the age of 10–11. This is an early-life intervention that seems to be beneficial for the rest of their lives. The results indicate a direct causal effect from reading to children at a young age and their future schooling outcomes regardless of parental income, education level or cultural background.”
In 2021, therefore, Milley’s work is even more vital than it was in 1986, and she has expanded her aim beyond Horry County, first to all of South Carolina, and from South Carolina, who knows? It’s worth remembering that South Carolina was the first colony in America to establish a public library – on November 16, 1700, in the city then known as Charles Town, today’s Charleston.
To date, she, and now with others, have placed over 6,500 books into the hands of loving parents who want their children to both read and succeed.
In the next year, Milley’s goal is to place another 2,000 books in 1,000 homes. It’s simple. The parents read the books in the home. The children learn to read. The stories teach the values and cultivate the hope we need.
Milley tells this story: “I was at the annual autumn Loris Bog-Off Festival.” [Note to South Carolinians who are not from Horry County: “bog” is a chicken, sausage, and rice dish, probably called bog because of the wetness of the dish, although it is popular in a marshy area.] “We were asking for a minimum donation of $10 per book at the Bog Off to help defray the expense of buying books for individual free distribution.
A small boy came up and looked at Bible Story Book for Little Eyes. It was clear he loved and wanted the book. But when his mother searched her purse to find some money, she had only $1, which she put into the donation jar. I didn’t hesitate to put the word of God into a family’s hands. I handed the little boy the book. His face split into a huge smile, which reflected the joy in his mother’s eyes — and mine.
Over the years, Pat’s organization has raised over $100,000 to further her program. Obviously, the more she raises, the more books she can buy to put into the hands – and minds – of families.
Milley’s work can be found at the website of her non-profit organization, Children’s Bible Story Books in Every Home: