Tag Archives: Reading



In the late 1970’s Popular Science ran an article about The Next Decades Up- and-Coming Young Scientists, or something of that nature. At the time I was busily engaged in the trenches rearing three small children. Our eldest son had scored very high on an IQ test (I almost want to say here that he was “diagnosed” with a high IQ), which was no surprise, but it did increase our insecurities about how best to meet his needs.

The author of the article in question interviewed several of the men and women scientists who had been recommended for the magazine’s honor. Some of the questions asked and the answers were very illuminating.

When asked when they knew they were “smart”, over half said they had no idea until they took the SAT and/or entered college. They thought of themselves as “just one of the guys” until they went away from home. There were very few who said their parents told them or any of their siblings they were smart or praised them for it. Some of the respondents still sounded shocked that they were considered smarter than average.

When asked what they considered their biggest advantages in growing up,  the answers were almost all along the lines of:

My parents made me do my homework, and they checked it.

I had responsibilities at home, but learning was a priority.

My mother took me to the library at least once a week to get as many new books as I was allowed to borrow, and made certain I both read the books and took care of them. My parents questioned me about them.

Both of my parents were interested in what I was doing and what I thought. We ate dinner together and discussed everything under the sun.

All of the respondents said their strengths started with their parents and being taught to work.

The article also quoted one top scientist as saying, “You can learn anything in the world if you have an IQ of 120, anything above that number is just so much gravy.”

I’m still not convinced that we know enough about intelligence to “test” for it. What is considered intelligence in one culture may be totally irrelevant in another. Is a Polynesian explorer steering his canoe by his knowledge of the ocean and heavens any less intelligent than a book taught scholar at Cambridge? Would some of our present day educators have enough knowledge to survive if dropped into a wilderness? What kind of IQ would survival take?

So, does IQ matter? I read once that after Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in Physics, he and his wife visited his old high school where he asked to see his school records. Upon leaving he turned to his wife and said, “Winning the Nobel Prize didn’t seem like such a big deal, but now that I know my IQ it seems huge.”

I have watched the trap that parents of “smart” kids can fall into when they think that their child “has no peers”, as I heard one woman say. It’s an easy trap to be caught in. When our son skipped sixth grade and began Middle School he left his friends behind and felt lost without them. He came home one day and happily told me he had made a friend. Without thinking, I asked, “Is he smart?” My son, wiser than I, answered, “I don’t know, but he sure is nice.” I mended my ways.

Remember, we should be engaged in the business of rearing good people first, geniuses if we have to. Now that I have watched my children become adults and begin families of their own, I have learned a few lessons that, in the real world, seem important to me in growing those good people:

All children should be taught to work at a young age. They should also be given some moral and/or religious instruction.

All of your children, whether genius or not, will have different strengths and weaknesses. Other children are their peers.

All children will fail, and need to be told they failed. Their feelings will recover and their self respect will be strengthened when they master what they failed at.

Never be afraid to tell your children “NO”, and mean it.

Unless they are infants or ill, never clean up after your children. They need to clean up their own messes and mistakes.

All children should learn a skill or trade, but not all should go to college.

Your child may be a “late bloomer”, cut him or her some slack.

All children, no matter how “smart”, will have troubles and heartache. It’s called the human condition.

At some point, earlier than you might think, you lose the right to be your child’s boss. They’re on their own.

As long as your children know how to work and love God and learning, chances are, no matter what they do, they’ll be fine.

One more thing. If I were doing things all over again today, I would home school in a heart beat.



I do not remember a time when I didn’t have a book spinning in my head. Reading forced me to decide whether I wanted to be like the people in the books I read. That aspect of reading became more important when Holocaust literature started to become available in the early 1950’s. I still weep for Elie Weisel’s losses and marvel at his survival.

My youngest child (who was born when I was almost 46) and I were discussing a talk she had heard by an author who was a holocaust survivor when I mentioned that I had been in my early teens when I began reading books on the subject. She looked surprised and indicated she had begun reading those books when she was nine or ten. Imagine her shock when I reminded her that when I was that age the war was barely over and the books were not yet written. World War II was ancient history to all of my children.

There were so many times that books challenged me and made me decide what actions I would not take part in, or which ones I wanted to emulate. Sometimes I think of life as a continual “reinvention” of one’s self. The act of reading internalizes the quest to change like nothing else. Asking questions and deciding how one should act is a process of surprising growth and most of the thought involved is inside “where the meanings are” (per Emily Dickinson).

I remember a chance thing when I was a high school sophomore in a World History class. The instructor began the class by telling us what we didn’t know about history. Then he described a city where the ruler had gathered up scrolls, clay tablets, cuneiform writings and books from all over the known world and established the greatest library the world had ever seen. The teacher said he knew no one in the class could even tell him the name of that city. Instantly without even thinking I said, “Alexandria.” The teacher’s face was so shocked as he stared at me. I was also shocked because I was normally shy and hated attention being drawn to me. I honestly could not remember how I knew about the great library at Alexandria and can only think I must have read about it in The Book of Knowledge years before that class. If the teacher had asked me one real question about the city or the library I don’t think I could have answered it.  The only thing I could have said was that the library was destroyed almost completely some time after the death of the ruler (Alexander the Great).

Of course I became the “teacher’s pet”, and also became known as a “brain.” There are times when a reputation has to be maintained with great effort. I worked so hard in that class so I would not be exposed as the dummy I actually felt like. I don’t think I could have done anything wrong in the eyes of the teacher in that class, and I know word got around to a lot of the other teachers. I found myself putting more effort into every class I had.

One of my aunts (the wealthy one) was telling my mother how she paid her children $25 for each A they got, $20 for each B, and $10 for each C. I was around the corner listening and feeling sad because we didn’t have that kind of money. After a moment my mother said, “If we did that with Anniel we’d go broke on one report card.”

She had never said a word to me about my grades so I hadn’t known she was proud of me. Her words were a better reward than any money.


“TODAY IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION. THANK YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING.” English translated road construction sign on  Tokyo street – engrish.com

Very early this morning I had cause to remember learning to read and what that has meant in my life, which is still under construction.

I was three years old when our family moved out to what was then the country. Dad bought an acre of scrub land covered with sagebrush, tumbleweed and mustard weed, where we lived in a four room shack with no indoor plumbing or central heat. We did have electricity and a party-line telephone. A well was drilled and we were fortunate enough to hit artesian so we never needed to pump or prime the well. I loved the well and thought it the most beautiful place of all in winter when it froze where it flowed down the pipe and onto the bare rocks and little branches around it.

We had very few books in our home, although daddy loved the newspaper and we all loved the comics. After dad and mom finished with the paper, I always sat on the floor under the kitchen table and  “looked” at the rest of the paper, along with the comics.

My older brother started school the year we moved, so I was alone a lot. My parents decided that year to buy a set of books called The Book of Knowledge, and I would sit on the floor in front of the wood stove for hours poring over and looking at the different sections and pictures until I practically had them memorized. I particularly loved the literature and Fairy Tale sections where there were tales of villains and heroes. Each year we would receive another book to add to the set. It was called The Book of Knowledge Annual, and I lived for the day it would arrive so I could find out what had been learned in the past year in science, and what literature had been added.

I could hardly wait to go to school so I could learn to read, then I would be able to learn anything in the world. The thought was thrilling to me. I envied my brother and the kids around us who went to school before I did. They would be so far ahead of me. I hated the thought.

Finally I was six and the big day arrived. Kindergarten at last, and I would learn to read. All of my senses were alert, and, sure enough, the teacher stood up and talked about the great things in store for us, including learning to read! She picked up a strip of blue colored paper and said, “This is the color ‘blue’ and this is the word ‘blue’ written on it.” She repeated the same thing with a strip of red paper. I was so bewildered. She repeated the same thing with an orange strip, and then added, “Someday you will know how to read, and no one will have to tell you what the words are.”

I went into absolute shock. Of course the words said “blue”, “red”, and “orange”, what else could they possibly say? Then it hit me, this was reading and I hadn’t known it. I already knew how to read!

I wish I could tell how I learned to read without ever realizing what I was doing. I remember the stories, King Bruce and the Spider, Robin Hood, Beauty and the Beast, I had read them all in The Book of Knowledge. I had also read about World War II and even the Rape of Nanking in The Reader’s Digest, which a neighbor subscribed to.

After school that afternoon I told my mom I didn’t have to go to school anymore because I already knew how to read.

They still made me go to school, even though “See Spot Run” held little attraction for me.