This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 11, 1990

April 11, 1990 - Literacy

Why read? After all, if it's news you want, either radio or TV will wrap it up in a couple of minutes. If you're looking for advice, there are probably a few people you trust -- why not call them? If you're looking to just relax and have a good time, hey, jab in a video!

If this makes sense to you, if you're nodding your head, then chew on this: every librarian has two nightmares, and you're the second, someone who can read but won't. What's our first nightmare? Someone who doesn't know how to read.

Before I came to Colorado I was a literacy tutor for over a year. My student was an alert, capable man, 52 years old. For 25 years he had worked at an automobile plant, running sophisticated electronic equipment. His memory was almost perfect. His ability to follow oral instructions was close to flawless. When I met John, I had trouble understanding just what I could do for him. Then I had him read me a "diagnostic" passage of text.

John read about as well as a beginning second grader. I was shocked. I asked him how many people knew about his reading problem. Just three, he said -- an army sergeant, John's wife, and his daughter. He hadn't seen the sergeant in 30 years. His wife had died just recently. Once a week, he drove thirty miles to his daughter's house so she could go through his mail and pay his bills. That was partly the reason he had contacted the local literacy project -- it was one thing to lean on his wife, he felt, something else to depend on his grown and married child. Then, the automobile factory closed. John couldn't read a job application.

At first I couldn't believe that a reading problem that severe could go unnoticed for so long. But the functional illiterate quickly learns how not to be noticed. He doesn't have his glasses, could you read this to him? And that phenomenal memory -- he never wrote anything down because he couldn't. He had to remember.

With John, I experienced one of the most intense pleasures a librarian can know. Once a week, I helped unlock the mind- boggling treasure that is a library. I gave him books, and they were welcomed as a starving man might welcome food. His joy in learning was keen and ravenous. He devoured suspense stories, newspapers, magazines, classics, even romances -- with mounting ease and excitement.

I learned all over again what a precious, even magical thing a book is. And I learned how easy it is to teach motivated adults. They have a lifetime of experience to draw from, and a need-to-know few children can match.

Mark Twain said "There is no difference between a man who cannot read good books, and a man who will not."

Why read? Ask John.

No comments:

Post a Comment