LFL (not ROFLMAO) The Little Free Library: Preserving the Art of Reading (and thanking a teacher)

On Sunday, April 24h, I had the pleasure of donating copies of my novels to Cumberland’s Awesome House of Books. (https://www.facebook.com/CumberlandLFL34034/)

This is one example of the growing phenomenon of small, volunteer-run, free-standing places where one can borrow, read, and return books. There are no library cards (who remembers those?) No late fees. No time limits.

It harkens back to a time when people trusted each other and accepted the responsibility of that trust. Meeting Arlene Griffin Smith and her family, the caretakers of the library, was a pleasure.

In a world where “Brevity is the soul of wit” is twisted, corrupted, and compacted into a 140-character assassination of writing, preserving the art of words and books is a worthy goal.

At a time when HD TV putrifies imagination, books serve as the last defenders of our ability to use our mind’s eye.

For a writer, people who read are our most precious commodity. Without them, our words remain just symbols on a page. The act of offering books to preserve the joy of reading is one dear to my heart.

I want to thank Arlene for devoting her time to such a worthy cause and encourage all to stop by, visit, find a book, and lose yourself in an author’s world.

There was also an unexpected bonus to my visit. A teacher I first met in 1969 at the brand new (at the time) McCourt Middle School (Cumberland, RI) was there.

Dan Walsh, a teacher I had for quite a few classes, and I spoke of those very different times in school. Both of us had the pleasure of growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island at a time quite idyllic. We shared the nostalgia of a Cumberland from a different era.

As I progressed from middle to high school, Dan moved up with us. He was among several excellent teachers my fellow CHS class of 1974 members were fortunate enough to experience.

Dan taught English. He offered many classes in subjects such as Elizabethan Poets, Composition, Writing, American Literature. I took as many of them as I could.

I sometimes cannot remember what I had for lunch, but I recall the beauty of the words of William Blake, The Tyger,

Tyger, Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

Or William Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn,

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness!

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time

I have always enjoyed writing and reading. The joy of taking bits and pieces of imagination, mixing it with twenty-six letters and assorted punctuation and producing a character, a story, or an entire world is as close as one can get to being a magician.

Teachers like Dan Walsh gave me the magic. They unlocked the power of words. They taught me to think.

For that, I am eternally grateful.

Sometime in 1974, I walked out of my last class with Dan Walsh. But I thought he might like to know that those classes never walked out of me.

(Now I must go back and make sure there are no grammar errors in this piece. Forty some years later and still apprehensive of the critical eye of Dan Walsh.)

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.