Class begins at 8:00 A.M. sharp. The frowns and worried expressions tell the sad story.
There will be a test on Friday. The skimpy booklets conceal the overwhelming difficulty of the subject. The title of this book that intimidates even the most stouthearted in the group - “SEE SPOT RUN.”
John, who weighs over 240 pounds already sports sweat stains on his freshly pressed shirt. Theo, in the next seat shifts uncomfortably awaiting the inevitable call to discourse on the day’s topic. The setting is the mandatory GED class at the Federal Prison Camp in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“If kids come to us [teachers] from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important!" - Barbara Colorose
None of these men who now have families themselves had that benefit during childhood. The Bureau of Prisons demands that each of them attend classes for approximately seven hours each day until they can pass the GED or High School Equivalency Test. It is not only a daunting task. It is intensely humiliating. If they fail, these men will be forced to repeat the entire process again and again, ad infinitum.
Imagine, if you will, visiting with your children. They tell you about the sports they play, their friends and the toy they just received from their grandmother. Then the conversation shifts to what they learned in school yesterday.
“Dad. Is there an easier way to do long division?”
“Dad. What does ‘serendipitous’ mean?”
Or this one: “Dad, why was the invention of the printing press so important?”
It wasn’t important to you. . . IF . . . You can’t read! . . . . . . . Embarrassing?
I learned to read before I attended kindergarten. My father, a pharmacist, and my mother who held a supervisory position in civil service held the concept of learning in high esteem. They constantly read and read to me. As a child, my natural curiosity impelled me to venture into that wondrous land of books. All kids are curious. How many have parents who take the time to feed that insatiable curiosity?
Many of today’s youth are latch key kids. The parents work two and sometimes three jobs. The goal is to be able to pay for more “things”, usually things bought on credit. After all, we have to maintain a high standard of living. Right?
As far as learning is concerned, isn’t that why we have teachers? Of course, you can remember all the great teachers you had in school. Were there more than five? If so, thank your lucky stars.
Teachers today contend with problems that didn’t exist a few decades ago. No longer are the main problems talking and passing notes, chewing gum or tardiness. When the students show up at all, the teacher’s first concern is for his or her safety. School entrances are equipped with metal detectors, armed police officers and drug sniffing dogs. These precautions are necessary. The police aren’t the only ones that are armed. Is there anyone who doesn’t remember Columbine? Many schoolteachers have adopted a bureaucrat’s vision. Let’s go through the motions and survive to collect that pension. Control is the issue and if a student happens to learn something, well . . . . . . that’s a bonus.
This situation did not originate in a classroom. That arena is only the showcase for the symptoms. The cause is absentee parenting. When a child’s primary companionship and mentor is a television set, or worse a video game, what result can any reasoning person expect? The price is the highest rate of teenage suicide, unwanted pregnancies, drug addiction and youthful murder of any developed nation on planet earth. For many kids, the home that provides the most consistent nurturing is a gang. At least, there they can be accepted for what they are; an illiterate time bomb looking for a place to explode.
Those who stay in school face challenges unknown by previous generations. Man’s knowledge now doubles every five years. Today’s students must acquire the know how to function in a world where technology advances exponentially.
“The simplest schoolboy is now familiar with truths for which Archimedes would have sacrificed his life.” - Ernest Renan
It all begins with reading. Without the ability to read, nothing else can happen, nothing good that is! And reading begins in the home. It starts with parents who love to read and, since pre-school kids are natural imitators, the rest is easy. For this to occur, those of us who are parents need to find time for our children before they no longer have time for us.
So, how are you doing? Are you waiting to welcome Mr. Kotter? There are precious few of them out there. As rare as are great teachers, so should great parents be plentiful.
“As we read the school reports on our children, we realize a sense of relief that can rise to delight that, thank Heaven, nobody is reporting in this fashion on us.”
- John Boynton Priestley, 1894 - 1984
Ah, but someone is! If you are a Christian, you already know that the records are being kept and, as Mr. Priestley referred to, in Heaven! Are you passing the ISTEP test as a parent? Do you know a youngster with whom you can read? A comic book isn’t a bad thing if a kid can read it. Our kids are our future.
It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. One loving and nurturing adult mentoring a four year old can make an impact on this world long after we leave it.
Inculcate a love of reading in a child this week. By the time he’s forty, who knows what could happen? Instead of struggling through “SEE SPOT RUN”, that tyke might cure cancer, write a great novel or stand in a pulpit. Because of you, he may even feel as Erasmus did:
“When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.”
- Desiderius Erasmus, 1466 – 1536
Being a member of our Friends of the Library society, I read with interest your article, "Help, I can't read." I know people who can't read. I feel sorry for them, especially when they become adults. It is difficult for them to get on in life without the ability to read. Your article brings to attention this fact. We take for granted the ability to read. Thanks.