by Anniel 2/7/15
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. • (1645 views)