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“Educators must not shrink from meaningfully dealing with the impact of electronic images or other cultural factors on literacy.” — one of the author’s home schooled teens, having just read Sanders’ A is for Ox.

The kid (Eugene) can’t read well, and so the authorities getting a guy like me — experienced with literacy programs — to help the child improve. The youngster isn’t very motivated to read at all, truth be told, and they’re hoping that I can stir up some passion for books, magazines and such. Get ’em to love the word, get into the visceral appeal of language, its rhythms. Want to open a book.

I need some help, though, so maybe you won’t mind going with me into his backyard where there are some influences impacting on him severely. Then you can let me know what you think.

[Pause.]

One of the reasons the student never got the urge to read was that he was always hungry — no food ever in the house! — and that dealt a death blow to his concentration and motivation. His sister (Carla), who’s also a poor reader, has managed to secure more to eat on a daily basis than him ’cause her friend works at a convenience store, but the crap she gets hold of is almost always filled with way too much sugar; she can’t sit still long enough to turn a page.

Why are they so poor? Well every time an illegal drone takes off or a missile is fired the family of Eugene and Carla pay dearly. We all do, of course. And all of those bullets, they have to be replaced on a regular basis. And troop barracks don’t grow on trees; they must be designed and built at great expense. And maintained without any pro bono help.

Seriously, the U.S. military is not only, arguably, the single greatest polluting entity on earth, it’s a very expensive operation. And sucks up much money that could go toward the support of families in areas where kids can’t read.

The teenage drone operators in Nevada (operating in violation of international law) and U.S. foot soldiers in Afghanistan — and many of their counterparts on and off the 800+ U.S. bases worldwide — return home quite damaged. And they contribute sometimes to the tension on the streets in neighborhoods all across the country, even if they’re not behaving weirdly because they’re feeding drug habits they’ve acquired overseas.

That tension, often manifesting in horrific language and imagery, contributes to a lack of interest in reading. Such dynamics have a lot to do with why a kid never gets the hang of reading. Quite often that’s the case, in fact.

The proliferation of school violence in many forms, including bullying and shooting massacres are related to that unsettling tension I speak of too. And you can’t get away from the fact that it’s a factor. Too many returning vets are primed for violence, and whether or not they have act out their unbearable urges, youngsters pick up on the gap between a smiling face and a filing away of deep traumatic scarring. The bank of abominable feelings which build up affects the innocent child, even if a wild word is never spoken, a frightening glance never taken in.

But the violent words and looks ARE increasing, aren’t they? They are, and among teachers and other adults too, not just between children. Look at the current selections on Netflix, if you have any doubts about this. The decent choices are the rare exception now. And the bad options on the shelf — so often filled with gratuitous violence and the glamorization of illegal activities — taint what can be considered quaint or quieting.

You think that psychologically damaged returning vets or undamaged vets who’ve developed an appetite for killing don’t kill the seeds that might bloom into interest in reading? Oh, I see. You can’t make the connections. YOU don’t read much.

How are you respecting water? Potable water. The lack of which can drain health, and proper concentration along with it. How are you regarding the effects of chemicals and minerals like lead in local drinking water? Eugene and Carla live in Stockton — they’re real youngsters, not fictional creations of mine! — and some of the challenges they face which impact on their lack of literacy can be traced to the hazardous sites and conditions which are very much a part of their lives.

They live near French Camp where one of the most hazardous environments in the country can be found. In fact, one in ten Americans lives within ten miles of a Super Fund site. Those statistics include a lot of kids, in case that didn’t enter your mind. It’s always on my mind. But, unfortunately, many educators across the country (who, perhaps, don’t deserve to be called teachers) fail to see the connections between school performance and environmental toxicity.

I’m glad that teachers are moving in solidarity to secure higher wages and decent benefits in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma and elsewhere right now, but I can’t help wonder to what degree they’re equally interested in making the connections I am addressing here. Not a single teacher among the score of Stockton educators I contacted about a very hopeful piece I wrote a short time ago expressed interest in dealing with the environmental issues I cited at the end of last year.

Many of our “educators” are on automatic. They figure that what’s always been most important in the academic realm is most important today. But that’s not the case. For there’s never been a time before when, say, the proliferation of everything from pesticides to electromagnetic pollution* got to such a point where it would impact on literacy, emotions, etc. (to the degree that the downers are doing today).

*Make sure that you glance at all five of Ce Ce Doucette’s episodes and/or that you watch at least one of Dr. Martin Blank’s videos on this subject,

You don’t have to buy into what I said above suggesting a correlation between any particular this and that. Where it’s at is in the acknowledgment that it takes way more than a village to look after a child.

But, for sure, it takes a village which has potable water. And trying to deal exclusively with literacy (or any other legitimate need of a kid) without advocating that someone has to be engaged in dealing with the Big Picture is kidding yourself.

Richard Martin Oxman, Director of Flannery O’Connor Academy, has been an educator on all levels for over half a century. He can be reached at aptosnews@gmail.com. The author is very interested in interaction; obviously, only a few variables were cited in this piece.

 

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