FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Learning to Read in the Pacific Northwest

by DANIEL WOLFF

My prologue to the readings from my book How Lincoln Learned to Read in the Pacific Northwest is a weekend stay up on the Olympic Peninsula. A walk down the beach facing the Juan de Fuca Strait reveals sea otter, bald eagles, loons, seals, grebes. Drawn by this wilderness, the folks I meet are in the middle of a re-education. They’re convinced the car-driven, oil-dependent, energy-wasteful culture is suicidal, and they’re trying to figure out another way to go. Public transportation, composting, grow your own food, used clothes, intense awareness of energy use, and a local focus that leaves the rest of the continent – from the news to the pop culture – blurry. Call it a re-Americanization: the thirty-something guys in their beards and flannel shirts, women in gore-tex and hiking boots, are like immigrants to a new, green land. They’re in the middle of inventing the language, the values, the customs.

So it makes some sense, later in the week, when the discussion of the good-sized crowd at Powell’s Books heads in the direction of alternative ways of learning. There’s the woman in the first year of home-schooling her 15 year old son; she talks about how he’s not only more curious but physically healthier. (Are pale, acned adolescents a product of fluorescent lights and history class?)

A soft-spoken, gray-haired guy wonders why, after all these years, our schools still can’t manage to teach the basics. A middle-aged woman behind him answers that the circumstances keep changing: both the present world and the imagined, future world kids are being prepared for. So, the basics keep changing, too. How we read and what we read shifts – or the emphasis shifts. We aren’t teaching for the farm anymore. (I wonder if 21st century green living will mean going back to educational basics, too?)

A woman up front makes a point about what she calls reverse discrimination. She has four kids, the youngest is mixed race, and that one is offered a richer variety of programs in high school. Because she’s part Hispanic the woman says.

A high school student a couple rows back answers her. Her honors program is mixed race. As are lots of the school’s programs. And, the teenager adds, what’s wrong about home-schooling is you lose that diversity.

The discussion zips back and forth, me adding some anecdotes from How Lincoln Learned to Read. One guys talks about his “a-ha!” moment in middle school when he stays up all night to finish a paper and realizes he likes learning. A librarian wonders what libraries have to do with early American learning, and we talk about Ben Franklin borrowing books, Abigail Adams holed up in her grandparents’ library.

Afterwards, the talk is more personal. One former elementary school teacher is now helping doctors with their handwriting. She sighs; penmanship has been a lifelong struggle. Another has self-published a book on the scripture. A guy wants to talk about the role of Free Masons. It’s a lovely, slightly loony conversation.

At the end, a man in his early 60’s with thick glasses and a gentle voice describes how college wasn’t very good for him: he never learned the skills he needed. It was too “de-individualized.” “Only now,” he says and looks to the ceiling, “– what is it? May? –so five months ago, I realized what it is I need to know to do the things I want to do.” He pauses. “I believe in life-long learning,” he says and hopes his son turns out the next night when I’m reading at the University of Washington bookstore.

DANIEL WOLFF lives in Nyack, N.Y. His other books include “4th of July/Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land.” He is a co-producer of the forthcoming Jonathan Demme documentary about New Orleans, “Right to Return.” He can be reached at: ziwolff@optonline.net

 

 

Daniel Wolff‘s new book of poems is The Names of Birds.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail