Friday, August 29, 2008

the buds of a literacy narrative

I've kicked off my semester w/ two texts: Frederick Douglass' "Learning to Read and Write" (from the Narrative) and Sherman Alexie's "The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me." My intent (well, I have many intentions) is to get the students thinking about their own experiences w/ learning to read and write so that they, in turn, can write their own literacy narratives. We did some freewriting in class about it today.

I have written about this so many times, and yet it never ceases to bore me. I owe my start to Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and my sister. Sesame Street and The Electric Company were groundbreaking in their day, and I was blessed to be a part of that pioneering generation (I even own the vintage DVDs!). My sister filled in the spaces by playing "school" and "library" w/ my twin brother and me. She even had, what seemed at the time, to be a mammoth chalkboard. On that board she wrote the names of our sibs, pets, Dr. Seuss-inspired words, etc., and taught us what they were. It wasn't long before my twin brother and I were reading The Cat in the Hat on our own, before entering kindergarten. At the time, such a feat was uncommon. "Library" consisted of us selecting a book and reading it to ourselves-- it was her way of getting us to be quiet.

My aptitude and amusement for reading and writing was further fueled by my sibs and parents reading to me frequently. I still love being read to, to this day. It's one more reason why I enjoy audiobooks.

I wonder, had I not been born at that time, had I not been surrounded by a family for whom books were not an aversion (although I wouldn't say it was their passion--music filled that top honor), had I not been nurtured w/ narratives during my youth, would I be the writer and reader I am today?

The sad thing is how many of my students write or talk about that one-time childhood pleasure, or the very excitement of being able to sound out the words or put the letters together, and how school snuffed the fire right out of them. Me included. I went through a reading dormancy, beginning around age thirteen up to about age twenty-two. That's a long time. All I know is that when I finally awoke, I was hungry.

How is it that our school system makes reading, and learning, a distraction and a burden rather than a desire and a motivator? Why do they so successfully turn us off rather than turn us on. Oh, there are a few teachers who manage to spread their enthusiasm, but sadly they are in the minority. Besides, even their fires are snuffed out by the extinguishers of standardized testing and mandated reading lists of the same old stand-bys from when I was a student. Something seems very wrong about that to me.

Am I wrong? Am I ignorant to the public school system? I hope I am. I hope I am way off base. But so far, I haven't seen evidence to that. Not when 90% of my students report that they dislike reading and writing. 90%, folks. I'm not exaggerating.

The older I get, the more comforting a room full of books is to me. I don't want to lose that feelng.

How did you learn to read and write? Share a memory with me, please.
With thanks.

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