To the editors:
As I read Joy Calhoun’s article “First Person: Why Victor Can’t Read” Reader (June 16, 1989), I thought that the story she had chosen for reading to the children about a father and a son who came to earth to fish, as not appropriate. More so, since even Ms. Calhoun herself (as the teacher) admits that she couldn’t define the parts and function of the fishing gear father and son had brought from another planet.
For starters, no child can identify with fantasy stories such as this, or fit in. I couldn’t understand why Ms. Calhoun thought that stories about the Coast Guard, raccoons, etc. are not better for the children to read, although such things can be easily explained, in fact, should be learned. I’m sure, children know what a guard is (they must have security guards in the buildings they live in), as well as what the coast, freight, and boats are. With regard to that a poor child does not have much of a chance to be in a boat or see a raccoon, there are many middle-class children who have never been in a boat; nor do all middle-class children (even adults) have seen a raccoon, save perhaps in the zoos which are also accessible to poor children like Victor.
Moreover, I couldn’t understand why Ms. Calhoun thought of highlighting class differences as the reasons for not learning. I can believe that poor children are unable to learn if they go to school hungry or if they are the victims of abusive parents (she didn’t tell us this was the case with Victor), but I don’t buy that’s because they don’t have their own room. There are many middle-class children who grew up sharing a room with a sibling. I myself know of a family with both parents teachers, and a combined income of $60,000 a year, yet, their twin children had shared a room until they were eleven years old. Nor do I understand why she is criticizing the police for arresting criminals. Even Victor, regardless of his love for his father, is intelligent enough not to think that his father was right and the police wrong for arresting him; and it was cruel of Ms. Calhoun to ask Victor whether the title “Father Knows Best” would be good for this story, since she knew that Victor’s own father was arrested for having done something wrong.
Therefore, Ms. Calhoun does not sound convincing in blaming Victor’s poverty for his inability to read. But then quite a few teachers today find it easier to heave a sigh about the futility of trying to teach poor children than to bother finding constructive ways to do so, thus, they would rather leave it at that.
The stories that would be interesting to children to read should be mostly the ones the children can see themselves fit in. For example, why don’t the teachers try to help the child write a story, say, about his day with Mom (any day)? He can write that he tries to put his things away so that his Mom (let’s assume she is a working Mom), as she won’t have to pick after him, she can spare the time to help him with his homework. Better yet, he can write that he helps his Mom with the chores during the weekends, so that she can budget quality time for family activities such as to take him to a zoo, the lake, and other places which can be of interest to him. He should even write about his days with his father before he was arrested, and how he enjoyed his company. Then after his teachers help him edit what he wrote (he can learn from his mistakes this way), he should take his story to his mother and father.
I’m sure, his parents will try to fit into the story the way their child had described their day together–even if such a description is not quite accurate–as they realize his feelings for them as well as his expectations for their love. There is no end to the stories a child can write or read that he can identify with in terms of how he can relate to the world around him, his friends, and his playing and sharing with them.