I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Reading, writing, and more

I'm on the right
This picture is a piece of a school picture, taken in the early 1950s at Travis Air Force Base in California. My dad was stationed there for the longest period of time that we stayed anywhere, and I sort of felt that California was my home. We moved several times during this period, and I cannot even fathom how I ever got an education while being shuttled from one school to another during my formative years. But I did, partly because I loved to read and, although I wasn't ever a standout in any subject, I was always good at English and loved to diagram sentences, and spelling was a favorite activity.

Now that I am no longer involved in public school affairs, I have learned that the schools I attended no longer exist in any form whatsoever. Public schools no longer teach penmanship and handwriting, and however they teach reading is nothing like how I learned. I was taught using phonics, which teaches the student to sound out the words. I remember when I learned how to spell the word "orange," because it was totally different from what I imagined. I had puzzled over how the sound of the word might be translated into letters.  It's one of those memories that I remember to this day, because I ran home from school to share my excitement with my mother.

I still love to read and manage to devour several books a week, fiction and nonfiction. Recently I read a really good book that was recommended to me, Wild By Nature, by Sarah Marquis. "In 2010 Sarah travelled from Siberia to Australia, alone, on foot. From freezing cold to desert heat, from high mountains to jungles, 6 countries to cross, 6 different languages. More than an expedition, it’s constantly going further than you think you can." There are scenes she describes in the book that come up in my mind while I'm walking, thinking about her having accomplished something like that. Her experiences came alive in my mind because of my ability to translate her words into thought pictures. Reading and writing are essential parts of my life, and I cannot imagine who I would be if I never learned to read.

Today, many children are given iPads and other tablets and use them for entertainment and watch movies and videos instead of reading. What a different environment than the one I had growing up! I can still remember with incredible excitement the Dick and Jane book I first read all by myself. The words were short and primary, but I read them without any help at all. It was a wonderful feeling. Reading is associated with many cognitive benefits. I wonder if staring at a screen does the same thing. Somehow I don't think so. A Wikipedia page on Reading says this:
Reading books and writing are among brain-stimulating activities shown to slow down cognitive decline in old age, with people who participated in more mentally stimulating activities over their lifetimes having a slower rate of decline in memory and other mental capacities. Reading for pleasure has been linked to increased cognitive progress in vocabulary and mathematics during adolescence. Moreover, the cognitive benefits of reading continue into mid-life and old age.
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 There was another reason that I cropped that picture for the top of this blog. I was thinking about one of my fellow students, the girl on the left. I don't remember her name; she was shy and reticent, but I remember that she was the only girl who was allowed to dress in jeans, and I wondered why at the time. Back in those days I'm sure bullying occurred in schools, but it was nothing like today's intense problems. I've often wondered what happened to her. We called her a "tomboy," but I think she was one of those children who hated the gender she was born into. Maybe she is no longer a she, because these days it is acceptable to become transgender. I learned about what that means here. Although it may be possible to follow that path, most transgender people face discrimination at and in access to work, public accommodations, and healthcare. No one would choose to go through the process unless it was really important to them.

I am a little bit ashamed at how ignorant I have been about some of the difficulties that people who are different from me endure. It never occurred to me as a child to wonder about the young girl who still remains a mystery to me. Whatever happened to her, she is now in her mid-seventies (if she is still alive, that is), and I wish her all the best in the world. I wish I had been more curious back then. You know how when you think back about events in the past, they sometimes get fleshed out? Thinking about her, I believe she was a very good person and treated me with kindness, but that might only be my own projection. I hope I did the same to her.

A program I have enjoyed on Amazon is "Transparent," and I've watched all three seasons with varying degrees of appreciation. It's become a little bit more outrageous as time has gone on, but I will still watch the fourth season to see what happens to these people I've come to love. The story revolves around a Los Angeles family and their lives following the discovery that the person they knew as their father Mort is transgender. Hence, the name of the series. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can get it free. The first season was the best, in my opinion.

Well, that was a little excursion away from the topic I chose this morning of reading and writing. However, the whole idea of being transgender has been in the news lately because of a young child who was born a girl, whose parents allow to live and function as a boy. He was thrown out of the Boy Scouts when his gender was discovered, and to my complete amazement, the Boy Scouts have changed their policy and allowed the child to join. Read about it here.

Yes, the world is changing right before my eyes, and I'm thrilled that I'm still around to learn about it all. I do hope that those children who aren't learning to read in the old fashioned way I learned will still become literate through methods I don't know anything about. It's important to be able to imagine and use those cognitive abilities that only reading gives us. Just my two cents.

And with that, another Sunday post has emerged, not the one I thought I would write, but another one entirely. I hope that you will give your loved ones some sweet Valentine on Tuesday, if you feel like it, that is. I know I can expect something chocolate will pass my lips on that day. Be well until next week. (And yes, SG is still snoring lightly next to me and my tea is gone.)


Anonymous said...

It would be a good sweet old memories when we go back and see our past. Many things has got improved now in education. Our kids have different ways of reading and writing:)

Linda Reeder said...

Well, you landed on a topic near and dear to my heart - the teaching and learning of reading. During my career as an educator I was a constant learner of how to help young children learn. I became a reading specialist and worked with many kids who were struggling. I became convinced that in order to reach those kids for whom learning to read was not easy, we had to break it down into its parts and show them that reading was not some magic they didn't know the magic words for but actually an applied skill they could learn. In other words, PHONICS!
Apparently we have gone back to "whole language", and readers workshops and learning to read by reading, which will work for the front end of the bell curve, but leaves too many others behind. However, I am out of the business now, and spare myself the frustration of dwelling on it too much.
My fondest childhood memories include being read to by my primary grade teachers. My mind movies were so vivid. I lived those stories right along with the book characters. I discovered in my teaching that not everyone has the ability to visualize like that. I think that is sad, but at least now we can accommodate more learning styles than we used to be able to do.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I have ever met a transgender person. But, my cousin's son is gay and married a white gay man from Australia. I attended their wedding reception. Both are nice people, and I see nothing wrong with same sex marriages.

John's Island said...

Good morning DJan. Thank you for another fine edition of Eye which leaves me in a reflective mood thinking about life and change. Earlier today, while watching one of those Sunday morning interview shows, I heard a long-time politician say, “Life is change.” Well, yes, I thought, it’s true. Perhaps we, as a nation, are not accepting change and maybe that is the basis for many of the problems we are facing today. It seems like a large number of our fellow citizens want to go back in time and erase some of the change. For example, let’s go back to a time when the borders were not a big issue, and America didn’t worry about immigrants. Or, let’s go back to a time when factories and coal mines were places where people signed on and earned a life-long income in one type of endeavor. Or, let’s go back to a time when people didn’t try to change their gender. Some might see this going backward as a way to “make things great again.” Ahhhh, but that is easier said than done, as we are seeing today. No immigrants and Silicon Valley grinds to a halt. And are we really going to let people start digging coal out of the ground again, just so they’ll have jobs, instead of developing other safer ways to provide energy? I better not stay on the soapbox too long. :-) I’ll close with a few of your words from today’s post: “Yes, the world is changing right before my eyes, and I'm thrilled that I'm still around to learn about it all.

Gigi said...

I would be lost if I didn't have my books. Yes, they are using different methods to teach these days. But personally, I think that it is the parents duty to pass on the love of reading. My mom loved to read and shared that with me. I, in turn, passed it on to my son.

Have a great week!

Arkansas Patti said...

Like you reading was important to my youth. The bookmobile was my friend. I wasn't taught Phonics but whole language. Have no idea which was better. Reading is something I hope doesn't get lost. It not only engages the visual mind but the imaginative one also. Think the latter is needed for creativity but who knows? We will see how all the electronic tools the kids of today have will work for them.

Marie Smith said...

I remember the moment I made the connection of the printed letters to the words. I haven't stopped reading since then. The feeling I had that day is a vivid memory. I still take great pleasure in reading and now, writing too.

Red said...

Wow! This posts covers some very heavy topics. Reading and writing. Where do I start. I know many people will disagree with me. Dick and Jane and phonics are good memories but I don't think it was the most successful way to teach reading. Many kids who went through that program never learned to read. They didn't get phonics. One of my close relatives is the perfect example.
Maturity brings things into a much sharper focus as in the example of your transgender classmate. Parents were no wiser and didn't help us in understanding sexual issues.
I think many kids learn to read before they come to school . My son knew how to read before entering gr 1 but he had to jump through the hope the same as anybody else.
Parents and teachers reading to kids went a long way in fostering a love of reading.

Rian said...

I too love reading... and always have. I still read every day (and night). And I want "books" not ebooks - (not to say that I wouldn't use ebooks if the actual book wasn't available). But responding to some thoughts brought up here, I do think that today's children come to school already reading. At least this is what I'm seeing with my grandchildren... and their parents do read to them (but they learn from their electronic devices too, so who knows).

BrightenedBoy said...

I've often wondered whether reading was taught differently before, or whether only a subset of children ever really picked up the practice with enthusiasm. I was a child in the 1990s, an adolescent in the 2000s, and a bookworm for the entirety of that time. That early exposure to literature, and the skills it gave me, conferred advantages that have persisted and become more critical in my adulthood. The increasing prevalence of electronic media is something that I, a 28-year-old, find very disheartening. I see it in my sister, a 13-year-old glued to her smartphone. Heck, I see it in myself, and fight to impose limits on my own electronics use. If I'm ever blessed enough to have children, I expect to raise them in an anachronistic way (or go down trying ha ha).

Stephanie Faris said...

I do remember all the time I spent reading books when I was a kid. We had TV, of course, but I found always having a book with me kept me from being bored. I feel like if I'd had a smartphone as a teen, I wouldn't have read at ALL. All of that time would have been spent texting and snapchatting...and reading was one of the best things I did when I was young. I would have missed out on so much by staring at a smartphone screen from age 12 on!

C-ingspots said...

Oh, I can't even imagine not having my books to get lost in when I was a child. I loved reading then, and still do now as well. I don't know, but kind of believe that the way kids learn these days, just isn't as good somehow, although I know very little about it. The math escapes me entirely though! Convoluted and not at all straight-forward imho.

I have those memories about kids I went to school with too. I always imagine being more open-minded and much more courageous than I was then. Kids are so self-involved. Maybe we still are...

Sally Wessely said...

Reading is my life and has been since I first cracked open that first Dick and Jane book. It turns out I was taught to read by sight and have always struggled with phonics, but that never stopped me from reading. The way to teach reading shifts with the wind. My children all read before they started school. They were breast fed by a mom with a book in her hands, and as soon as I could, I was reading to them. They grew up around a father and mother reading. Reading was the family past-time. That always makes a difference.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I remember when I learned to read too, it opened up a whole new world to me. Books were not easy to find in our home, a Bible and an Old Veterinary Manual that I read frontwards and backwards. I loved school because of the books and missed reading during the summer. My Mother did not encourage reading as she thought it was a waste of time.

I read to my girls before they were born and afterwards for years, they are both readers!! We used to go to the library one night a week to get books for the week it was our family library night!
Perhaps the little girl in jeans was a tomboy or maybe she had hand me downs from a brother.
Seems to me that many people are struggling with gender idenity now a days. Years ago it was never talked about if it existed :)

Glenda Beall said...

I have not been reading blogs for a few weeks, so am catching up on yours, DJan. I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. In summer the book mobile came out to the farm and my sister and I loaded up as many books as we could carry or until my mother said we should leave a few for the other kids down the road.
Like you, I remember kids in school who were different and I had such empathy for them. I was a shy quiet kid. I know I never bullied anyone and felt sorry for those who were picked on by mean kids. I wanted to wear jeans to school and one day I did, only to be told I must never do that again. I was a tomboy and wanted to be a boy because boys did fun things and never were punished. I had four older brothers and I wanted to do what they did. But when I was old enough to like boys, I was glad I was a girl. Great post.