Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Late Bloomers

Recently, an Aurora student from many years ago wrote to me in a FB message: I was a late bloomer ... my interests did not kick in right away.

Well, he's not the only one. Yours truly qualifies for "late-bloomer" status as well. Although I'd done pretty well in elementary school (except for getting a minus now and then in "keeps hands and materials away from mouth") my grades were good.

I can't say, though, that I had any identifiable intellectual interests back in the early 1950s (my elementary school years). I liked biographies about mountain men and cowboys; I liked Davy Crockett; I liked my bike and baseball and throwing rocks; I liked ice cream and the movies; I liked cowboy shows on TV--and there were many of them in the 50s. And there were a couple of girls ...

The concept of homework had not really reached Enid, Oklahoma, then--not in the elementary grades, anyhow. I had books to read for book reports but that's about it. Everything else we did in the classroom (our desks bolted in rows to the pine floors of Adams School) under the close supervision of veteran teachers (all women, by the way) who knew exactly what we would do if they let their attention drift during what they called "seat-work time." Spit wads were a personal favorite, flicked with a ruler.

Things got worse during my junior high years. Homework arrived, and I did not approve. Did not do a lot of it. As a result, my grades bounced around in C and B Land in 7th and 8th grade, and my parents began to despair, and my brothers were delighted. I found I was decent in basketball and baseball and convinced myself I didn't need all this schoolin': I was going to be a professional athlete. (Hah!)

And, of course, testosterone made most of my "decisions" the next dozen years or so. Maybe more.

In high school I grew somewhat more attentive--fewer C's, more B's and A's. Mostly because I had a few teachers whom I didn't want to disappoint.

College--the very thought of it--terrified me. But I went (tuition-free: Dad taught at Hiram College) and generally did well in classes I liked, less well (okay, even worse) in classes I didn't. Mature, eh? While I was there, I rediscovered my boyhood fondness for reading (and not just biographies of Kit Carson and Jim Bowie), and I was happy to discover I could major in something that basically required me to read and write.

I graduated in 1966 with an average above (barely) a 3.00 and commenced my teaching career. After a couple of years of teaching in a middle school I decided to return to work on a master's at Kent State (12 miles away), and there I discovered, at age 24 or so, what can happen when I actually try--and care. I did very well there--careened on to my Ph.D.

Continued teaching and became a Readin' Fool; I now read (conservatively) a couple of hundred books a year--maybe more??? I've been a professional book-reviewer for nearly twenty years.

So ... what I'm saying ... I understand "late blooming"; I experienced it myself; I saw it countless times among my students throughout my 45-year teaching career.

And, if I may segue, this is what worries me, deeply, about our current Test Mania and the urge to test and classify and categorize when kids are so young, so, well, unformed. In many cases, they are barely nudging up through the soil, showing a flash of green; we hardly know what sort of plant they even are. Yet these lists of scores--these data we extract from them--convince us that we do. (After all, numbers are real, aren't they?)

I think today's sort of testing would have destroyed me. I wasn't ready (and I most certainly was not alone).

What we ought to be doing in school is more nurturing, more helping kids find out what sort of plant they are, giving them lots of different kinds of soil to grow in, showing them the multiple delights of the world.

And then we can watch in wonder as, one day, the buds open and show us something we've never seen before.

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