I'm reading a great book: Real Education, by Charles Murray. He encourages his readers (whom he assumes to be very intelligent in the linguistic and logical realms, or why would they choose to pick up and read such a book) to consider what school is like for someone who is low on the ability scale in the area of reading. Not untrained or unmotivated, but literally low in ability, meaning they are not likely to ever be able to do it well.
He says, to get an idea of the feeling, consider something that you don't do well and are not likely to ever be able to do well. For me, that would be sports. I'm not a complete clutz -- I can dance -- but athletic endeavors are generally failing efforts for me. I participate only to be a "good sport" or to get exercise. Case in point: a recent bowling tournament with people from Keith's work. I usually do OK at bowling, but I won't even share my average scores from that evening with you. Suffice it to say, I offered nothing to benefit the team. Keith kept giving me tips -- hold the ball this way, throw it more this direction, aim for this spot. I knew all that. The mechanics of the sport I understand; it's the execution that escapes me.
I remember playing on a church softball team in junior high for a summer. At one practice, the coach was working with me on batting. When I finally make contact with the ball, he praised me effusely, and then told me to "hit it to the short stop this time." Excuse me?? What unearthly sense of optimism would lead him to believe I could possibly direct that ball in a particular intended direction? The bat and ball made contact. Leave well enough alone.
This is often a point of frustration with Keith and me because he is an athlete -- and a natural one at that. That doesn't mean he doesn't have to work at it; he does. But it means that when he strikes a golfball and it fades right, he not only knows what adjustments he needs to make in his body to correct that, but he has an awareness of and an ability to control the tiny movements of his body to bring that correction about. This is an intelligence I lack completely. I am hopelessly inconsistent at any and every sport we play together, which renders the event much less enjoyable for the both of us.
Could I ever be better at, say, hitting a softball? Probably. But it would take hours upon hours of practice, and very specific instruction from a very patient instructor, and any gains I would make would disappear in a year without continued repetition. If being able to hit a softball to the shortstop on a consistent basis was very important and necessary to me, I could make it happen. But nothing about the process would be enjoyable.
So, is this how a poor reader feels in school? They are told to read, and, even in some good schools, not really given good specific instruction in the truly complicated steps involved in that process. They are asked to make inferences from a text that they have just barely been able to decode at all. They are thrown into classes where being able to read is a necessary skill for success. And they are clearly told -- albeit very indirectly -- that their failure at this task is either because they are lazy or because they are stupid. And that they are now doomed to a life of misery, poverty and failure because they are lacking in this one ability.
There was a boy in our homeschool co-op in Jersey who couldn't read even into middle school. But he knew all the information he was "supposed" to know for his grade level, and maybe more, because his mother patiently read material to him and he retained it with remarkable accuracy. He also had a knack for machines. At an early age, he could take apart any machine, large or small, indentify all the parts and their uses, put the contraption back together again, and often make improvements as he worked.
Don't tell me this kid is stupid. And don't tell me he's doomed to a life of poverty -- what was your last bill you paid for the services of a plumber, or electrician, or some such precious commodity? He will make more in one of those careers than most "smart" kids will make in middle management somewhere with their B.A.s. And I bet he'll be much happier.
I'm not saying he doesn't need to know how to read. He does . . and he's learning. But we need to stop thinking of such kids as educational failures. If he'd gone to school, that's what he'd have been labeled. But because his mother taught him and knew him, he will likely be a successful young man at being who God made him to be. God didn't make us all to be brainy nerds like me who love to read and think and live for the masochism of the classroom. Lucky for us . . . or our toilets would never flush.