I had a fascinating lesson with Kathy this week.
She has learned to read three letter words and many four-letter words, but still has difficulty with five letter words and up. The longer words involve rules that are harder for her to remember, such as when you add an E to the end of a word, it changes the vowel sound to a long sound. You also have all those pesky blends like Ch, Th, Br, etc . . . that make an entirely new sound complicating the task.
Anyway, she is reading some easy children’s books now. I brought a newspaper to our lesson last Thursday see if we could use it in anyway, thinking its content would be less condescending than children’s books. As I lay it out on the table in front of her, it occurred to me that not only has she never read a newspaper, but it’s likely she has no idea what is inside. I asked her if she knew what was included in a newspaper, and she replied “News?”
“Well, yes, but it isn’t quite as generic as that,” I explained. So, we went through the paper, page by page, as I pointed out what was inside. I explained how the Atlanta paper had national coverage, but our small local paper, published two days a week, was concerned with our community only. That happened to be the paper I was introducing to her Thursday.
We discussed the first page news, such as the fact that the mayor has been arrested three times for cockfights and people think it is time to give him more than a small fine. She had heard of this and nodded as if this was hardly news to her. There are yellow ribbons all around town, and another article explained that one of our local boys died in Iraq this week and his body was being shipped home for the funeral. On Sunday, they asked people to show their respects and line the streets when the hearse arrived. That was news to us both – we both wondered about the ribbons we’d seen along the road as we drove to the lesson. In that moment I think we both made plans to stand outside at 5:00 on Sunday.
Then we went to the second page and I showed her the section where all arrests are listed. Her eyebrows lifted and she said, “Does that mean my name was in the paper?”
I explained that, “Yes, she was probably listed.” This is why her son’s teacher and others knew what had happened even though she hoped no one would know. She was shocked. Embarrassed. She had no idea that kind of information was made public. She looked over the arrest names a bit sheepishly. I wondered if she was looking for people she might know, so I pointed out that she could check it once in a while to see how people she knows from her court appointed meetings are doing. If she read this section, she would know if friends or acquaintances slipped up and went off the wagon. She nodded sadly.
We went on to the Editorial page and I described how people write letters to pronounce their opinion on things happening in the community. We read a few of the heated letters. She had no idea that there was a public forum for people to vent. She was delighted to learn of it.
I showed her the obituaries. She didn’t know there was a place where those that passed away were honored. She thought that was nice. I turned to the community events page and we reviewed how she could find out about all the nice things happening in the area that she might want to attend, such as the Christmas Bell Ringers concert or lectures or the 2.00 pancake breakfast the Shriners are holding this weekend. I also pointed out that civil services are listed, such as the empty stocking program where children from disadvantaged families can sign up and get Christmas presents. She said once a friend signed her son up for that, but she had no idea where to get information for those kinds of things normally. Now, she does.
We even reviewed the TV and movie listings, and the adds for the local grocery stores to compare prices and see what stores had a “buy one, get one free” deal this week, which revealed where she could shop for the best bargain. We saw what animals are up for adoption at the local animal rescue and reviewed the want ads. She was amazed to see so many listings for employment and the listing of things for sale. She remarked that, “those want ads sure make it easy for someone to find a job or something they want to buy second hand.”
I grinned and said, “Yes, Kathy. Life can be much easier when you just know how to maneuver through the system. Reading takes the work out of lots of things because information and communication is so important for understanding the world around you and all it offers.”
She looked at the paper pensively and said, “I can’t wait ’till I can read this.”
I nodded casually, but inside I was screaming a big, fat, yippee!
Since meeting Kathy, I can’t make a recipe, or read a poster about an upcoming concert that I don’t consider how non-readers miss out. And doing things like putting our Chicken Nesting boxes together this weekend – with directions that were furiously complicated -make me wonder how non-readers function at all.
Kathy followed along as we perused the paper, amazed and impressed with all the information packed inside. She said, “I thought there was just news in these things.”
I pointed out that news includes more than the obvious events, like a bank getting robbed. It includes community services, events and information too.
She took the paper with her and planned to read it on her own to see if she could make out what each section was later, when I wasn’t around to explain it for her. She can’t read it all yet, but she might be able to get an idea of the columns, even with her limited reading vocabulary. She was very interested in learning how to use the paper to her advantage. It made my day.
I was excited, because I know that Kathy isn’t going to learn to read and start picking up Hemmingway in her spare moments. The goal is to teach her to be self-sufficient and to improve the quality of her life, and learning her way around a newspaper brings us closer to that end.
What was best about it all was I had an opportunity, once again, to look at something I take for granted, in this case the newspaper, and see it through fresh eyes. I really never considered how valuable a paper is before. A newspaper, to me, is a disposable thing and I barely pay attention to what is inside, other than to browse through casually. I go to whatever section I think has information I need and ignore the rest. But a newspaper is a marvel because it has SO MUCH information and it is published every single day (well, most papers) and it is inexpensive and easy to attain. What an amazing service for mankind.
I think feeling gratitude for our life is one of the keys to feeling content. I may be the one volunteering to help Kathy read, but it is clear everyday that I am benefiting as much as she is from the effort. Life has subtle, yet special, gifts to offer us, if we take the time to recognize them.
Anyway, I am feeling grateful today. For newspapers . . . and people like Kathy.