Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reading and a reading

Last weekend, Jon did a poetry reading/book signing in Los Alamos. The Kid and I drove up with him but didn't actually go to the reading - because The Kid is still a little young, and it probably wouldn't look good if he kept asking when it would be over and if it was okay for him to play on his PSP during the reading. We knew that the longer the reading took, the better it was going. And happily, the reading took a very, very long time. Jon sold lots of books and stayed to answer questions afterwards. When The Kid and I went to pick him up, he was surrounded by a group of people who were talking excitedly about his work. So very awesome.

But while Jon was doing his reading, I took The Kid to the pond and watched as he played "Harry Potter" with a green straw from Starbucks (which served as a wand) and a paper cookie bag (which served as the Marauder's Map). My kid is playing Harry Potter games because he's reading the Harry Potter books. It's not something I could do at his age. Not even close.

I didn't learn to read until I was eight years old. It wasn't from lack of effort on anyone's part. My parents worked with me all the time, I had excellent teachers who tried everything, and I had a deep love of books which came from having them read to me by my older sisters.

But reading was something I couldn't do. Not until I was eight -- and somewhere in my brain something turned on and I read "Blue Bay Mystery" by Gertrude Chandler Warner all by myself (I still love that book). And within a year or two, I was reading everything I could get my hands on.

I was luckier than a lot of late readers. I had a grandmother who was an elementary school teacher -- and a very good elementary school teacher at that. Her solution to the issue was simple: Take no radical steps and let me grow into the ability. Her theory (which was the correct theory as far as I was concerned) was that labeling me as a poor reader, or putting me through a rigorous and humiliating "poor reader" program was going to make me hate reading forever. It was better to let me figure it out at my own pace. And eventually I did.

Which means I always have such pain when I see a parent or teacher freaking out when a kid doesn't read as well as his/her peers. Most often, I hear this kid described as lazy or stubborn -- as if the kid is choosing not to read just to thwart adults. I see parents who I normally adore become complete panicking lunatics who spend a ton of time and money on incompetent tutors and inflexible reading programs just to make sure that their kid gets up to speed. And I see schools purchase books that follow specific reading pedagogies at the expense of making stories that are actually interesting and might actually make a kid want to turn the page to see what happens next.

And none of this teaches kids that learning to read is a good thing. And that is a deep, dark shame.

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