Wednesday, March 16, 2005

“We learn by doing.”

The Movie: Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, 1982 (Jack B. Sowards and Nicholas Meyer, screenwriters, based on characters by Gene Roddenberry; Nicholas Meyer, dir.)
Who says it: William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise
The context: Admiral Kirk gives a lesson to half-Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley) about humor.
How to use it: When you’re trying something new.

Last night was my first training session for becoming a tutor with the Literacy Volunteers of Greater Augusta. One in six people in Kennebec County -- about 16% -- cannot read well enough to fill out most government forms.

After food and housing, nothing's more important than literacy. Even ten years ago, it was possible for someone in Maine to hold a decent-paying job without being able to read. That's not true any more, and it never will be again.

But literacy's about more than just being able to get a job, or vote, or drive, or set up home appliances. Words are the tools we use to shape our ideas about how the world works. If you don't have words to express yourself, you're much more likely to take violent action. If you can't get a legitimate job, your only options are public assistance or a life of crime.

The Waynesboro, VA Police Department believes so strongly in the connection between illiteracy rates and crime that they have launched their own annual book fair, with the proceeds going to literacy and crime prevention programs.

Words are what separate humans from other primates. Last summer I had a goofy conversation with a writer friend about the anti-social tendencies of monkeys; I said that monkeys only threw feces and abused themselves in public because they lacked the outlet of literacy. If you could teach a monkey to read, I said, they'd be as well-behaved as we are.

My sister Peggy, who kept the Monkey House at the Virginia Zoo before she got married, is already applying this principle to the upbringing of her own little monkeys.


Aldo said...

That's why I'm inthe business I'm in. Nothing is more exciting to me than watching a child learn how decode words and derive meaning from test. I love watching them get excited about reading. Now, if I caould get some of my colleagues to free read more often.....

AnswerGirl said...

We actually talked about this at LVA the other night, because a couple of people in the class are either teachers or retired teachers. They said they feel trapped by standards that require them to spend all their time drilling and assessing, rather than letting kids enjoy the process... and they're afraid that this generation of kids is learning to equate "reading" with "testing." What do you think?