Learning to Read – The Road to Freedom

OldBookby Anniel2/7/15
Today Is Under Construction – Thank you for your patience — English translated road construction sign on Tokyo street, ingrish.com  •  What is the proper age for a child to be taught to read? The word from educators these days is that children should not be “forced” to read until they are out of kindergarten. It might overwhelm their shaky self-esteem, psyches, or whatever the educrats are pushing today.

Thinking about it early this morning I had cause to remember learning to read and what that has meant in my life, which every day is still under construction, and how much of that construction has focused on reading.

I was not yet 4 years old when our family moved out to what was then the country. Dad bought an acre of scrub land covered with sagebrush, tumbleweed and mustard weed where we lived in a four room shack with no indoor plumbing or central heat. An irrigation ditch ran along the front of the property, and the outhouse had black widow spiders in summer and was freezing in winter.

Mom cooked on a wood and coal stove. She said until her death that the food tasted so much better cooked on that stove, but she’d never go back to the work it took. We did have electricity, which meant a bare bulb in the middle of the kitchen and one in my parent’s bedroom, otherwise we used candles or hurricane lanterns. There was a party-line telephone, which also came complete with plenty of eavesdroppers.

A well was drilled and we were fortunate enough to hit artesian so we never needed to pump or prime the well, but we had to carry water into the house. Dad planted fruit trees, which we had to carry water to each day, and we kept chickens and a hog. A couple of times my brother was given lambs for helping neighbors with their chores.

We bathed once a week in a tin tub with water heated on the stove, and did the wash on a scrub board until we could afford a wringer washer. I loved the well and thought it the most beautiful place of all in winter when it froze where it flowed down the pipe and onto the bare rocks and little branches around it. It looked like a fairyland. I cried when the well was capped, and we moved into a new house when I was 13.

We had very few books in our home, although daddy loved the newspaper and we all loved the comics. After Dad and Mom finished with the paper, I always sat on the floor under the kitchen table and “looked” at the comics and the rest of the paper.

I do not remember any adult ever reading aloud to me, although I may have been taught the ABC’s by my older brother, who started school the year we moved. I was alone a lot when school took him away. My parents decided that year to buy a set of books called The Book of Knowledge. I would sit on the floor in front of the wood stove for hours poring over and looking at the different sections and pictures until I practically had them memorized. I particularly loved the literature and Fairy Tale sections where there were tales of villains and heroes. Each year we would receive another book to add to the set. It was called The Book of Knowledge Annual, and I lived for the day it would arrive so I could find out what had been discovered in the past year in science, and what new Fairy Tales and literature had been added.

All the time my dreams were on going to school and learning to read. Then I would be able to learn anything in the world and the idea was thrilling to me. I envied my brother and the other kids around us who went to school before I did. They would be so far ahead of me. How I hated the thought of being outpaced.

Finally I was 6 and the big day arrived. School at last, and I would learn to read. All of my senses were alert, and, sure enough, the teacher stood up and talked about the great things in store for us, including learning to read! She picked up a strip of blue colored paper and said, “This is the color ‘blue’ and this is the word ‘blue’ written on it.” She repeated the same thing with a strip of red paper. I was so bewildered. She repeated the same thing with an orange strip, and then added, “Someday you will know how to read, and no one will have to tell you what the words are.”

I went into absolute shock. Of course the words said “blue,” “red,” and “orange,” what else could they possibly say? Then it hit me, this was reading and I hadn’t known it. I already knew how to read!

I wish I could tell you how I learned to read without ever realizing what I was doing. I remember the stories, King Bruce and the Spider, Robin Hood, Beauty and the Beast, I had read them all in The Book of Knowledge. I also read about what was happening in World War II and even the grisly Rape of Nanking in The Readers Digest, which a neighbor subscribed to. The neighbors also had National Geographic (didn’t everyone?)

After school that afternoon I told my mom I didn’t have to go to school anymore because I already knew how to read.

They still made me go to school, even though “See Spot Run” held little attraction for me.

WHAT READING CAN DO

My mom said you could always tell a reader because they read every word on the menu, even when they already have it memorized and know what they want.

I do not remember a time when I didn’t have a book spinning in my head. I made good use of school and public libraries, walking long distances several times a week to check out new books. Yes, I did read under the covers with a flashlight. And, yes, my parents got mad at me for not getting enough sleep.

My folks had a copy of Riders of the Purple Sage and Zane Grey was my favorite author for a long time. I learned a lot of history of the west from his writings.

Reading forced me to decide whether I wanted to be like the people in the books I read. That aspect of reading became more important when Holocaust literature started to become available in the early 1950′s. I still weep for Elie Weisel’s losses and marvel at his survival. And I wanted to be strong and brave like Viktor Frankl and Primo Levi.

My youngest child (who was born when I was almost 46) and I were discussing a talk she had heard at school by an author who was a holocaust survivor. When I mentioned that I had been in my early teens when I began reading books on the subject, she looked surprised and indicated she had begun reading those books when she was 8 or 9. Imagine her shock when I reminded her that when I was that age the war was barely over and the books were not yet written. World War II was ancient history to all of my children.

There were so many times that books challenged me and made me decide what actions I would not take part in, or which ones I wanted to emulate. Sometimes I think of life as a continual “reinvention” of one’s self. The act of reading internalizes the quest to change like nothing else. Asking questions and deciding how one should act is a process of surprising growth and most of the thought involved is inside, “where the meanings are,” per Emily Dickinson.

I do not know what makes a spontaneous reader, nor do I know anyone who can even guess. Did learning to read early harm me in any way? Absolutely not. I have no explanation about how or why it occurred. Certainly no one ever “forced” me to read, nor did I force my children to read, though they were all good readers. The only reason I can think of for educators telling parents that they should not teach children to read is to keep the education establishment’s hold on the children’s minds, ala Common Core. This is such a sad thing.

Bruce Deitrich Price, who writes at http:/improve_education.org, suggests rereading Why Johnny Can’t Read, or Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, by Rudolf Flesch, if you want to understand what is happening about reading in the schools today. No good will come of Common Core and the look/say method of reading. We desperately need to get back to phonics and reading of exciting children’s classics.

I remember a chance thing about reading that happened when I was a high school sophomore in a World History class. The instructor began the class by telling us how little we knew about history. Then he described a city where the ruler had gathered up scrolls, clay tablets with cuneiform writings and books from all over the known world and established the greatest library the world had ever seen. The teacher said he knew no one in the class could even tell him the name of that city. Instantly without even thinking I blurted out, “Alexandria.” The teacher’s face was so shocked as he stared at me. I was also shocked because I was normally shy and hated attention being drawn to me. I honestly could not remember how I knew about the great library at Alexandria and can only think I must have read about it in The Book of Knowledge years before that class. If the teacher had asked me one real question about the city or the library I don’t think I could have answered it. The only thing I could have said was that the library was destroyed almost completely some time after the death of the ruler, Alexander the Great.

Of course I became the “teacher’s pet”, and also became known as a “brain.” There are times when a reputation has to be maintained with great effort. I worked so hard in that class so I would not be exposed as the dummy I actually felt like. I don’t think I could have done anything wrong in the eyes of the teacher, and I knew the word got around to a lot of the other teachers, so I found myself putting more and more effort into every class I had. Perhaps that was the real benefit of what had happened. Putting your nose to the grindstone really focuses your mind.

One of my aunts (the wealthy one) was telling my mother how she paid her children $25 for each A they got, $20 for each B, and $10 for each C. I was around the corner listening and feeling sad because we didn’t have that kind of money. After a moment my mother said, “If we did that with Annie, we’d go broke on one report card.”

She had never said a word to me about my grades so I hadn’t known she was proud of me. Her words were a better reward than any money.

Reading, the key to knowledge, is crucial to freedom. One of the first things tyrants always do is burn books. From the destruction of the great library in Alexandria; the loss of ancient writings when the Spaniards came to the Americas; the burning of knotted quipu writing; the refusal to teach reading to slaves in the South; Nazi book burning, and the confiscation of samizdat in The USSR, the story is always the same: Burn the books and destroy the people who read them.

I recently wrote of my grandson musing about the author Avi “broccoli coating” things in his books. A week or so after that incident his dad overheard Wilson telling his siblings that the thing he liked best about Avi’s books is that bad things happen, but he helps you know you can get through them.

What better life lesson can a child learn? That kind of lesson comes best through reading, the most effective method there is of internalizing knowledge and preserving freedom. • (1732 views)

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26 Responses to Learning to Read – The Road to Freedom

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I don’t remember enough of my childhood to say when I started reading. I recall that we would discuss phonics in class — but at what age? I also recall that we had those “Dick and Jane” books — but, again, at what age? Do to the specific rules in Texas, I had to wait a year to get into first grade, and my parents sent me to some sort of private school. I was definitely reading then; indeed, I seem to recall one of the big progressions that year was reading without moving the lips. (I also had trouble that year due to vision difficulties that later went away. That may be why, when I was tested the next year to see if I could make second grade, I didn’t get in.)

    There are things I can remember from our time in Fort Leavenworth (mid-1955 to mid-1957), when I was in nursery school and then kindergarten. Sometimes we would visit Topeka, and sometimes our chosen route went via a covered bridge, which initiated a life-long interest in bridges. (During the interval between For Leavenworth and Galveston in 1957, my father — a member of the Corps of Engineers — took my to someone who showed me a model of the federal bridge system in the Mississippi basin.) The memories are basically episodic.

    • Anniel says:

      Timothy – I went to bed trying to imagine you as a little boy learning to read. Your vast book and historical knowledge are so impressive I almost forget you might have had any problems. I’ll bet you were a very interesting child.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I do not remember any adult ever reading aloud to me, although I may have been taught the ABC’s by my older brother, who started school the year we moved. I was alone a lot when school took him away. My parents decided that year to buy a set of books called The Book of Knowledge. I would sit on the floor in front of the wood stove for hours poring over and looking at the different sections and pictures until I practically had them memorized. I particularly loved the literature and Fairy Tale sections where there were tales of villains and heroes. Each year we would receive another book to add to the set. It was called The Book of Knowledge Annual, and I lived for the day it would arrive so I could find out what had been discovered in the past year in science, and what new Fairy Tales and literature had been added.

    Wonderfully written, Annie. And you paint quite a charming picture.

  3. Anniel says:

    I just read the other day about the mullahs in ISIS held territory demanding that books on anything but the Koran be burned, and sometimes the people who have the books, too. That should not surprise any one. It always does happen. Refusal to allow certain classics like “Huckleberry Finn” in the schools is another form of burning books. Just give the kids crap to read and destroy their knowledge that anything better exists. It is just sad to me.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The vandals in charge of today’s public school system are doing their best to take away our common heritage and language so as to destroy any unity in thought except that which they prescribe.

      It used to be that one could cite a quote from the Bible or Shakespeare and most people would know what one was talking about. We are loosing this fast.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This is the imperative of those who cannot abide disagreement, which is usually a good indicator that they have a weak case. “If you’re weak on the law, argue the facts. If you’re weak on the facts, argue the law. If you’re weak on both, pound on the table.” Book-burning, like other means of intimidating and suppressing dissent, is an extreme form of pounding on the table.

      Incidentally, the final destruction of the Library of Alexandria came after the Muslim Arab conquest of Egypt. Legend says that the Arab leader said that anything which contradicted the Koran was pernicious, and anything which did not was redundant, so they might as well burn it all.

      • Anniel says:

        I could not remember what the destruction was caused by and had it on my list of things to look up. Interesting, and thanks. I may never make it to Tunta Tuva at this rate.

        • Anniel says:

          Just looked up the Library. It says in one article that many great scientific things were done there and that there were lecture halls that held up to 5,000 people. No one knows for sure how or exactly when the library was destroyed, although speculation is that Julius Caeser may have burned it when he tried to conquer Egypt. Archeologists discovered its site in 2008.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    In his last days as Supremo in Japan, there was much talk about MacArthur returning to the States and running for the presidency.

    When he left, he was popular with a good portion of the Japanese population many of whom knew of his ambitions. So much so, that it is said that there was a large banner displayed in Tokyo which read, “We Pray for General MacArthur’s Erection”.

    • Anniel says:

      Oh, that is so funny. Thanks for the laughter. My grandson thinks he’s not supposed to laugh at some things around me. That story just gave him red ears, so I told him that General McArthur probably had the same prayer. Now I’m going to fill him in on the good General.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      MacArthur was also very popular in the Philippines, apparently because he (unlike most whites) actually respected the native population as persons. Of course, the basis of the joke is the Japanese tendency to pronounce “l” as “r”, an analog of the Chinese pronouncing “r” as “l”.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Harry Truman, who despised MacArthur, was showing a Philippine president, I believe it was Quezon, the White House. Truman was showing Quezon photos of various important people he had met and there was one of MacArthur. Truman pointed to this photo and sarcastically said something like, “I don’t have to tell you who this is, it is God”, to which Quezon replied, “Mr. President, there are 40 (?) million Filipinos who think just that.” Truman shut up.

        Unlike many others, I am not a fan of Truman. I found him to be a little man, and the presidency didn’t act on him like growth hormones, as it does on many other occupants of that office.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          One alternate history of the Pacific War has a scene in which MacArthur, at a US military conference, learns that their waiter is a Filipino — and proceeds to speak to him in Tagalog.

        • Anniel says:

          Other than the fact that he once kissed me, always loved his family, and left the White House without fanfare, I actually only think of Truman’s choice to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki as being a “presidential” act worthy of either respect or denigration. Certainly more leadership than we have now.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Another of the Pacific War alternate histories I have (I once reviewed 3 in a single article in FOSFAX) has a scene in which Admiral Yamamoto suggests that the most important job of a leader is to make bad decisions. Anyone can make a good decision (i.e., a choice between good and bad options), though it must be noted that this came out before Feckless Leader was elected. But making the least bad of a choice of bad decisions is extremely difficult.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Anniel,

    What vistas our imaginations can open for us! I have never understood how anyone could find reading boring. From the time I was a small boy, I loved our World Book Encyclopedia and the two volume World Book Dictionary.

    Your piece shows what so many children today are missing. Books and knowledge can makeup for a lot. I am glad you wrote your story. You are keeping faith with the past and future. I hope your grandchildren read these.

    • Anniel says:

      We just finished reading McArthur’s last speech at West Point. There is a fully restored version now available on Google. It is such an uplifting talk and very prescient about what the future would bring. Jack watched the movie “Patton” and wants to take up studying McArthur next.

      I think, as I said on Deanna’s piece, that telling our own honest life experiences and stories may be the most truth and life affirming thing we can do for all of our posterity. We need to laugh together and refresh our faith. Your articles have certainly brought that home for me.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        MacArthur wrote very well. As I recall, he was one of the top graduates in West Point history.

        I am glad you enjoy my stories. And I agree with you about this being something for posterity.

        I only regret I had not written them before my father died. I know he would have liked them. In ways, he lived a vicarious life through me.

        • Anniel says:

          I am writing a story of my family’s first trip after WWII and I know what you mean about regretting not doing the story in time for my parents to read. But I hope my own children write their stories, even if I never see them.

          Personal request here, I hope you tell us how your life became so varied and beautiful.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Personal request here, I hope you tell us how your life became so varied and beautiful

            That would take a long time. The main advantage would be that I had parents who let me try to do the things which interested me.

            • Anniel says:

              We have all learned so much more about you from your recollections over the past several weeks. Maybe you’ll keep stitching your revelations together for us.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      My family had 2 sets of encyclopedias, Richard’s Topical Encyclopedia (a 1948 set that included a bit on Piltdown Man, which was most amusing when I learned that it had later been debunked), which I probably read in full during my childhood; and a late 1950s Funk and Wagnalls, of which I read large parts. I was still in grade school when I discovered, and started reading sections of, my father’s copy of Lee’s Lieutenants (which I think my brother later claimed; my own copy was bought at a used books store, though I also found a complete set of Freeman’s biography of Lee at a library sale). We also had various other reference works, some of them medical (which is where I encountered a picture showing how the itch mite causes scabies, as well as a lot of nutritional information) and some of them oriented for children. I learned a lot during my later grade school years, and mostly not in school.

      • Anniel says:

        Maybe people who enjoy learning really have to do it on their own.

        My eldest son took my copy of Gray’s Anatomy to bed with him every night and taught himself to read from that. He also didn’t know he was reading until he entered school, and always denied that he could read. However he knew too much, most of it embarrassing in polite company, not to be reading.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I can imagine; I have a copy of that myself, and even know where it’s located (which often is a problem with my books).

  6. Jerry Richardson says:

    Anniel,
    There are so many wonderful descriptions in your article, as usual; thank you, keep it up.

    Here are a few of the items that I especially enjoyed because they bring back corresponding though not closely similar memories.

    We did have electricity, which meant a bare bulb in the middle of the kitchen and one in my parent’s bedroom, otherwise we used candles or hurricane lanterns. There was a party-line telephone, which also came complete with plenty of eavesdroppers. —Anniel

    I don’t remember a time that my family did not have electricity where we lived; but my grandmother and uncles on my mother’s side didn’t get electricity until my late childhood. They used regular kerosene lamps for a long time then finally switched to an Aladdin-type—with a very bright wire-mantle which produced a very bright light—before eventually getting electricity.

    I do remember when my family got our first radio. I was quickly hooked; I listened to radio problems for years—my family did not get a TV until I was in late high-school. I remember, fondly, listening to such radio programs as The Lone Ranger, and especially Gunsmoke.

    I believe that listening to radio programs was great training for vivid visualization. While listening to Gunsmoke, I could close my eyes and “see” all the action. I still remember how disappointed I was when I first watched Gunsmoke on TV; my comment was “That’s not Matt Dillion.”

    I do not remember any adult ever reading aloud to me, although I may have been taught the ABC’s by my older brother, who started school the year we moved. —Anniel

    I remember very well my parents reading to me, especially my father, before I had learned to read (prior to age 6). One of the amusing things was that my dad would sometimes get sleepy and try to shorten the read by leaving something out. I would call his hand because I literally had the story memorized. To this day there are certain stories or movies that I like to read or watch again-and-again even though, and perhaps because, I know exactly what is going to happen in the story.

    Reading, the key to knowledge, is crucial to freedom. One of the first things tyrants always do is burn books.—Anniel

    And another of the “first things tyrants always do” is disarm the population. This is why so-called gun-control, aka victim-disarmament is a single-issue disqualifier of a candidate when I vote. I simply will not vote for any candidate who wants to render me defenseless in a thug-infested world. I decided early-on, even while his popularity was high, in some conservative circles, that I would NEVER vote for Chris Christie for President due to his flaky position (wishy-washy at best) on 2nd Amendment rights.

    • Anniel says:

      You just reminded me that we inherited my grandfather’s cathedral shaped radio and loved it. Daddy was always afraid to burn the tubes out so we were not supposed to listen to it without permission. We got pretty sneaky when he and mom were gone. I would guess he knew that. But yes, vivid verbal pictures were painted by radio.

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