GOOD

Michael Silverblatt on books

Michael Silverblatt on why you never learned to read.

How did it start? First it was a friend saying, "I don't read as much as I used to."This was someone who read Gravity's Rainbow as soon as it came out, but all these years later still hasn't opened Mason & Dixon. Maybe he owns David Foster Wallace's essays or subscribes to McSweeney's, but he simply doesn't have time to read everything now. Of course, he never read everything anyway. He just knew about everything new and smart and hot.A few years later he says, "I just don't have time to read anymore."Well, hell, who doesn't know him? The first horrible job, the first baby, the house that needs renovating, the hours spent googling on the computer. No time.Then later still: "I don't read."This in the same proud voice of someone who, when asked for a match, says a little too quickly, "I don't smoke." Or, holding a hand over the wineglass, says to the waiter, "I don't drink."Then the nadir. Last month I had a conversation that boiled down to:"What do you do?""I host a public radio show about books.""I hate reading."I felt like I'd been spat at or slapped. I fought the impulse to say, "Well, I hate you." But soon I met a whole brigade of reading haters. My niece hates reading, an art dealer I met hates reading, the publisher of a brand-new magazine hates reading. So, after crawling out of a puddle of tears, I began to wonder why people hate reading. Why do they say it so calmly? Why do they say it to me? Once they would have hid the truth and pretended to care.I think the answer I came up with is interesting, and I want to tell it to you, and I want you to listen and to stop laughing at me. Sit down.I think you have never been taught to read.I know I shouldn't say this to you (you're very nice) but I know it to be true, or true in so many cases that the exceptions don't matter.In 1962, poet-critic Randall Jarrell published his essay "The Schools of Yesteryear." In it, he examines the Appleton Readers, once the most popular school readers used in American public schools, and he found that in 1880, the fifth-grade reader contained works by Byron, Coleridge, Cervantes, Dickens, Emerson, Jefferson, Shakespeare , Shelley, Thoreau, Mark Twain and "simpler writers such as Scott, Burns, Longfellow, Cooper, Audubon, Poe, Benjamin Franklin and Washington Irving."Fourth-graders were reading Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" and poems by Wordsworth. If you're thinking to yourself, "How could that be? I didn't encounter anything like this until college," well, that's exactly Jarrell's point.A decision was made about how to teach reading that, by the 1950's, ensured Americans would not know their own (or any other) culture. We're all consequences of that decision.Remember second grade? We opened our class readers and read something like:See the dog run!Go, dog. Go!Go, go, go.And in case you missed the point, this was accompanied by a bright picture of a dog . . . going. We were given more and more of this, readers and workbooks and special projects, and the sure thing is that these words were not written by a writer but by a committee, a committee of reading specialists whose assignment was to create a program to guarantee that everyone would be able to read by the fourth grade."Able to read" means, of course, able to recognize simple words, a skill of sorts but not to be confused with reading. We were taught to recognize words but not to enjoy reading, and we weren't given anything of value to read. So we learned not to read, but to respond to a reading technology.What did the technology leave out? Only everything. The crucial thing it omitted is the rich and valuable experience of incomprehension, the most important element of reading. The art (as opposed to the technology) of reading requires that you develop a beautiful tolerance for incomprehension. The greatest books are the books that you come to understand more deeply with time, with age, with rereading.I would bet you my entire library that after elementary school you never read the school reader again, except perhaps to laugh at it. Why would you reread "Go dog, go?"It has nothing to tell you about dogs, or running, or going (whatever that is). It teaches you effective word recognition, but reading isn't done with just the eyes, or the eyes and the lips, it's done with the mind. "Go dog, go!" doesn't engage the mind, not even a child's mind. All it does is give the child the experience of achievement, instant and complete understanding - in other words, the usual American virtue of immediate gratification.If the teacher read you a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream in third grade, and then you struggled to read it out loud with the rest of the class in fourth grade, and you read the complete play in seventh grade-you would have the incredible experience of discovering that the mind comes to terms with its own incomprehension. The clearing of the fog of incomprehension is the yardstick of growth, every kind of growth: emotional, intellectual, moral, aesthetic, human growth.By now it isn't just one generation of kids that wasn't taught to read, their parents weren't taught either."A new figure has conquered the social stage. This new species is the second-order illiterate," writes Hans Magnus Enzensberger, a brilliant German culture critic, in his essay "In Praise of Illiteracy.""It contributes to the second-order illiterate's sense of well-being that he has no idea that he is a second-order illiterate. He considers himself well-informed; he can decipher instructions on appliances and tools; he can decode pictograms and checks. . . . The ideal medium for the second-order illiterate is television."By now second-order illiteracy has become so common that we elect second-order illiterates to office. Our president is only the most obvious example. Other second-order illiterates seem to identify with and to be consoled by the second-order illiteracy of their leaders. They like direct statement (they learned from that school reader) and have low tolerance for complex argument-really for complexity of any kind.I don't have a solution, but I'll make a deal with you. If you will compromise and admit that you don't hate reading, I promise never to recommend a book that will waste your time. Maybe, gradually, I can persuade you to do good: to help change the way reading is taught in this country. Maybe we can alter our future.Some more information:


Gravity's Rainbow (1973) By Thomas Pynchon; in its time, the paradigm for the difficult novel.

Mason & Dixon (1997) Also by Pynchon.David Foster Wallace American writer, author of the novel Infinite Jest (1996).McSweeney's Edited by Dave Eggers; the best literary magazine in which to find new fiction.Randall Jarrell Probably the most sensitive critic of poetry in his time.

"The Schools of Yesteryear" (1962) To be found in Jarrell's collection A Sad Heart at the Supermarket.

"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751) By Thomas Gray; the first appearance of the phrases "kindred spirit" and "paths of glory."William Wordsworth Father of Romantic poetry.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespearean comedy about young lovers lost in a forest.Hans Magnus Enzensberger German author, poet, editor; has written eloquently about the phenomenon of modern terrorism. "In Praise of Illiteracy" Delivered as an acceptance speech by Enzensberger when he won the Heinrich Boll Prize for contributions to German literature.-M.S.
Articles
Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tonight's Democratic debate is a must-watch for followers of the 2020 election. And it's a nice distraction from the impeachment inquiry currently enveloping all of the political oxygen in America right now.

For most people, the main draw will be newly anointed frontrunner Pete Buttigieg, who has surprisingly surged to first place in Iowa and suddenly competing in New Hampshire. Will the other Democrats attack him? How will Elizabeth Warren react now that she's no longer sitting alone atop the primary field? After all, part of Buttigieg's rise has been his criticisms of Warren and her refusal to get into budgetary specifics over how she'd pay for her healthcare plan.

The good news is that Joe Biden apparently counts time travel amongst his other resume-building experience.

Keep Reading Show less
Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert

This election cycle, six women threw their hat in the ring for president, but is their gender holding them back? Would Americans feel comfortable with a woman leading the free world? Based on the last election, the answer is a swift no. And a new study backs this up. The study found that only 49% of American men would feel very comfortable with a woman serving as the head of the government. By comparison, 59% of women said they would feel comfortable with a woman in charge.

The Reykjavik Index for Leadership, which measures attitude towards women leaders, evaluated the attitudes of those living in the G7 countries as well as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. 22,000 adults in those 11 countries were surveyed on their attitudes about female leadership in 22 different sectors, including government, fashion, technology, media, banking and finance, education, and childcare.

Only two countries, Canada and the U.K., had a majority of respondents say they would be more comfortable with a female head of state. Germany (which currently has a female Chancellor), Japan, and Russia were the countries least comfortable with a female head of state.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If you are totally ready to move on from Donald Trump, you're not alone. According to a report last April from the Wason Center National Survey of 2020 Voters, "President Trump will be the least popular president to run for reelection in the history of polling."

Yes, you read that right, "history of polling."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

RELATED: Video of an Oakland train employee saving a man's life is so insane, it looks like CGI

Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.

Culture