Things Worth Remembering: The Memory of Stories

“I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Mark Twain

 

Every day someone reads a book to our grandson, Levi. Most days it’s his parents but, whenever he’s with us, we read to him as well.

Why would we read to an infant unlikely to remember the moment?

Because reading stories always create memories—sometimes buried deep in the synapses of the brain — that last a lifetime.

Back in the Dark Ages, before the invention of eBooks, my grandfather gave me a book that I carried everywhere. The book weighed almost as much as I did, but it seemed a worthy burden to bear. It was a collection of many stories—The Wizard of Oz, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Sredni Vashtar, and many others that I read, and reread, and read again.

Even all these years later, when most of the things I once thought important have been lost to the dark recesses of my brain, these stories stayed with me on the forefront of memory. Perhaps it takes the mind of a child to know what is important to hold on to. Sadly, it seems it is a skill we lose as we turn our focus onto matters that we come to learn later in life never really mattered at all.

I want to create those lasting memories for Levi, the ones worth remembering, as my grandfather did for me.

There were other stories I remember. Stories from Captain Kangaroo—the model for all those shows that followed. Stories like Stone Soup, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddlar Some Monkeys and their Monkey Business.

I haven’t heard these stories since I heard them on that show, but I remember enough to tell them to Levi from memory. His reaction was mostly to smile, frown, laugh, or blow spit bubbles, so I also bought the books to read them to him and watch as the memories take root.

Reading is the critical foundation for learning. On average, Americans read just twenty minutes per day (https://www.statista.com/topics/3928/reading-habits-in-the-us) which is actually an increase over previous years (likely related to the involuntary limitations of Covid-19.) Could it be our lack of reading, and lack of encouraging others to read, negatively impacts our success with education?

I have always wondered what is it that makes some successful at learning while others struggle. It seems today that many would blame teachers for their kids’ failures in school or the dismal state of public education in many parts of this country.

My sense is nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers aren’t the problem, they are the filter that catches the problem and brings it painfully to our attention.

So I asked teachers, if they could point to one marker of success in students, what would it be?

The answers were remarkably similar.

A willingness to learn and work at it…

An enthusiasm to learn…

Parent(s) who make their children’s education a priority… parent(s) who were actively engaged in their children’s education…

… students that have the eagerness to learn have the most success. Of course, that eagerness, especially with the primary grades, comes from the attitude of the parents.

The point is, like the quote from Twain implies, schooling is just a part of education. It is fundamentally necessary but just one aspect of learning. The rest comes from living and the influences of those around you.

So if one book, given to a child all those years ago, can light the spark of an enthusiasm for learning, imagine what reading to them every day can do.

… and that’s why we read to him and will continue to do so until he is such an age to read on his own or to tell us not to… I hope that never happens.

If you want to create a legacy that will live on long after you’re gone, read to someone.  They will remember…

 

A special shout out to Colleen Campbell Hagen (my cousin), Pat Nixon-Gwin (a classmate from Cumberland High School Class of 1974), and Joan LaPlante and Dan Walsh (two of the finest teachers to grace the halls of Cumberland High School), for sharing their thoughts and experience as teachers.

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Counting Out America

First, it was Johnny can’t spell. Then Johnny can’t read. Now, Johnny can’t count. Why has education in America failed?

Recently, we stopped at one of those local farm stands to pick up some fresh vegetables. We’ve been going to this same stand for many years. It’s one of those family owned farms where generations of the family all work.

After picking out a few items, we placed them on the counter. The young, high-school aged girl gave us the price.  Seeing another item we wanted, we added that to the pile.

Instant panic appeared on the girl’s face. She looked at the collection of vegetables then told us her phone wasn’t working right and she couldn’t figure out the total.

Now, we’re not talking about very complicated math here. We’re talking adding $3.50 and $1.75.

Couldn’t do it.

She was not some immigrant from a third-world country who suffered from a lack of educational opportunities. She was early teens and could not do basic math.

She could manage texting and Facebook I assume.

This was in a small town with a well-established school system. This particular town brags of being the birthplace of public education in America. Apparently, it has now reached the end of its life.

Everyone is quick to jump on the blame the school system bandwagon. In particular, those union teachers who do not educate kids or care about them. If this young girl couldn’t add it must be the teacher’s fault.

It is not.

This is a basic life skill. The ability to do simple math is critical in one’s day-to-day life. Understanding things like 10% off or what the cost of one apple is if it’s $1.00 for four is a common task.

Something a parent should instill in their children.

Yet, it would seem this girl’s family is satisfied with their child’s inability to do the most basic of tasks. They’re comfortable letting her rely on the increasingly pervasive cell phone.

Education is not something you send your children out to get, it is something you participate in and reinforce in your daily lives. Sending your children out unprepared and ill-equipped to do basic things is nothing less than child abuse.

Perhaps there will come a time when we can do away with education. Just have a one-day class on how to use a smartphone. Find all the answers in a Google query.

Who needs an education? We have a handheld surrogate.

It was evident in that farm stand that the future of America is on its final countdown to failure.