Personally, I had no trouble with wanting to read. As a little tacker, I pulled the blanket over my head, and read a book using a flashlight. I thought it was a secret, but when I woke in the morning, the light had always been switched off by… someone.
My friend Bill Sutcliffe, the hero of my as yet unpublished series The Doom Healer, did face the problem of how to get another boy to read. Here is how he went about it.
On his very first day at school, Bill was bullied by a group of kids. Brendan was their leader. Then, the aliens abducted Bill to start him on his mission as the Doom Healer. His Charisma was activated, meaning that one look could make anyone his friend. (I know people like that.) The necessary tool is metta: unconditional love and acceptance.
Now, Bill is back, and starts on his work of improving the world, Brendan being his first client. Do excuse the obscenities, but that’s how Brendan spoke…
“What the fuck do you want?” Brendan said.
Bill smiled, with metta. “Make friends.”
“Huh?” Brendan’s face lost its sneer. “Why?”
“Life is too short for all that hostility bullshit.”
Brendan laughed. “You sound like my grandfather.”
“Must be a wise bloke.”
“Yeah, I left you alone, don’t want bloody Sir Galahad stomping on me.”
“Grater? He’s one of the most decent kids you’ll ever meet. He’ll be happy to be your friend, too, as long as you don’t bully people.”
Brendan grunted. “It’s just that I’m bored shitless in school. Wish I could stay home, but I’d cop it from my mum. Gotta have some fun!”
Bill was sure Brendan’s boredom had a different cause from his. “Think of it this way. School can be a prison, or a key to freedom.”
“There are sixty applicants for any job. You want more than the dole, or some dead-end job, you need qualifications.”
Brendan’s face turned red. “Bit hard when I, um, never learned to read good.”
“If you’re willing, I’m happy to help you to catch up.”
“Oh… is it possible?”
“We can start at lunchtime.”
“Tell me about your family,” Bill asked.
“Dad was born in Ireland, but grew up here. He met Mum when he went back for a visit. I’ve got two older sisters and a little brother.”
“How’re they doing at school?”
“The girls are fine, and actually, that makes me the stupido of the family, too.”
“Look, I’m only a kid like you, but I learn lots from reading. You’ll soon be able to do the same. One thing I’ve learned is, whatever you believe about yourself is true. Change the belief, and you change your world. So, if someone else can do it, you can learn it.”
“Yeah.” Brendan sounded very unconvinced.
Having finished lunch, they stood. Bill continued, “If your sisters can do OK in school, then you can too. We’ll show them!”
The library was empty when they entered. Bill had read up on the dyslexia tests in the school’s collection. He knew they were only to be used by trained administrators, but since he intended to keep the results to himself, he figured it shouldn’t matter. He guided Brendan through the student part of a test labelled CELF (it also had a questionnaire for parents and teachers), explaining he’d need to score it before they knew the results. They continued after the bell. Then Bill went onto a test that involved naming pictures. At the end, he said, “Mate, I reckon there’s nothing wrong with you, just you’ve avoided learning in the past.”
“You think so?”
“Let’s start catching up now. I can tell you the test results tomorrow. Here.” He gave The Cat in the Hat to Brendan.
“That’s a baby book!”
“It’s fun. It’s the first step on a path up a mountain. Soon, you’ll reach the peak.”
They worked through four Dr. Seuss books, then Bill walked with Brendan to the lockers.
On the bus, Bill told Brendan, “Mate, there is nothing wrong with you, except for refusing to learn. Now you want to, you’ll catch up on years of learning in months. Once you start, you’ll get a love of learning. It’s like exploring an intriguing foreign country.”
At school, they went to the library, but a class was just settling in. The teacher strode over. “Sorry Bill, you can’t work here this morning. Grab what you need, and ask Mrs. Kramer to find you a room.”
Bill selected a remedial workbook, and several Dr. Seuss stories. Outside, he asked, “Who is Mrs. Kramer?”
Brendan said, “The secretary.”
She lit up, seeing them. “Bill. How can I help you?”
“Ma’am, is there a room I can use?”
“We have a room for visiting professionals nearby. It’s empty today, though the nurse will be there tomorrow, and the speech pathologist on Friday.” She led them to the room.
Brendan settled to work with a will. They got through it in a bit over an hour. After reading The Lorax and Green Eggs and Ham together, Bill dictated a few well-known limericks to him. It took time, and Bill had to correct several mistakes, but he could see that Brendan liked the approach.
There was a young fellow from Kent,
Whose nose was most awfully bent.
He followed his nose
One day, I suppose —
And no one knows which way he went.
There was a young lady from Niger,
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
I bought a vacuum cleaner today,
Plugged it in, in the usual way,
Switched it on — what a din;
It sucked everything in,
Now I am homeless, with no place to stay.
An artistic young man called Bo,
To an art class decided to go.
The teacher said, “No, that’s not right,
Your page is entirely white!”
Bo said, “It’s a polar bear, hiding in snow.”
He finished with a rude one:
There was an Englishman from Leeds,
who swallowed a packet of seeds,
within half an hour,
his dick was a flower,
with his balls all covered in weeds.
The “hour-flower” rhyme was useful, and led to a long list of other spelling variations of a phoneme, though Bill didn’t use that word. After the bell went, Brendan said, “I’ll try and make up my own tonight. I mean, limerick — has to be Irish, right?”
“So it is. See you on the bus.”
In the morning, on the bus, Brendan greeted Bill with a limerick of his own:
There was a young fellow named Bill
Who really just couldn’t sit still.
He went to a quack
Who said, “We cannot have that,
Here, quickly, swallow this pill!”
“Excellent!” Where did you get the idea?”
“They did it to me. As a little kid, all I wanted to do was to kick a football or climb a tree or something. They put me on Ritalin so I’d sit still in school, so I hated school. Anyway, then I thought, pill rhymes with Bill, and there it was.”
So, this is my answer to Rhobin’s question: motivation and fun.
The other writers in Rhobin’s Rounds probably have a very different take on this topic. Well, the whole world is always out of step with me…
Please comment on my words, visit them, and see what you can see.