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 “The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back” is out in paperback this month.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington