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Saturday, June 27, 2015

I Never Read to My Son. Yet He Can Read. And He's Only 3.

My three-and-a-half year old can read. He can sound out simple three letter words. This is SO exciting for me! Partly because I'm his mom, and it's just frigging exciting. But also because I rejected the behaviorist parental script that instructed me to read to him. I feel like I just got away with something BIG.

As a baby, I never read a single book to Anders. Someone gave him one of those cloth baby books, and I did leave it in his room with all his other toys. He chewed on it periodically, but I never sat him on my lap and read it to him, and I never once saw him leaf through it like a book. But I did see him, once he could crawl, get his hands on my books and stare at them as he saw me do.

As a one-year-old he owned two books: that little cloth one and one called Baby Faces that featured photos of babies feeling different things like sad, mad, and tired. I read that photo book to him on airplanes (less than a dozen times total throughout the whole year). Anders continued to play at reading with my books. By this age his play reading also involved having a pen or highlighter in his hand and making little scribbles in the books (just as he had seen me do).

As a two-year-old he had about a dozen books on subjects in which he had shown interest: animals and machines. No story books though. The dozen books he owned were books that showed only photographs of real life with words beneath the photographs. I never read those books to him though as that would have been very boring (and philosophically horrific) for me. As before, he continued to play at reading with my books.

All this time I did read to him from the book I was reading if he asked me to. I read a lot. I always had a book in my purse. When we went somewhere, like the park, he would play, and I would read. When we went to the store, and he wanted to play in the car before getting into his carseat, I would read while I waited for him. He would often see me reading in the morning and evening as well. About once a week he would climb onto my lap, and I would read aloud to him whatever I happened to be reading at the time. We still do this. I am reading a book on death right now, and I read him a paragraph of it last night about which he commented, "How interesting!"

Also, I never shoved the alphabet down his throat. He never owned clothes with letters all over them. He never owned puzzles or dishes or placemats or rugs or toys that featured the alphabet. He didn't and doesn't to this day own a single thing, not even a decoration, with the alphabet on it. He never watched any Sesame Street or any of those other shows that claim to teach kids to read. He knows none of the children's songs that involve the alphabet either--or any children's songs for that matter.

When he turned three I read to him his first story books: Where the Red Fern Grows, and all of the Little House books. He loved these books, and so did I. They did have some pictures, but very few. I did edit the books a little, so that the characters modeled communication skills I support.

When Anders was three I asked him if he wanted to learn to read. He said, "No." I said, "Okay. Maybe when you are older!" Three months later I asked him again if he wanted to learn to read and he said, "Yes!" So I got the Hooked on Phonics program for pre-schoolers and we started learning letter sounds. I did not teach him letter names as that is highly confusing, and there is no point. The purpose of the ABC song is not reading but alphabetizing. One does not need to learn to alphabetize until one is using a dictionary and conceptualizing alphabetical order--maybe age seven.

I did not do anything gimicky to make learning letter sounds fun. I did not do a letter for a whole a week or give letters personalities or faces (like in Ron Paul's reading curriculum). Hooked on Phonics was the simple program I was looking for--though I would have liked it to be even more simple with fewer colors and distractions. Anders usually learned one letter each day we worked on them, and we usually worked on them five days a week. Learning a letter rarely took more than five minutes. Within three or four months Anders had learned all his upper case and lower case letters and finished the entire program except for the six horrible story books that came with the program that I did not read to him--one of the books was pure propaganda for cereal and another for corn.

Anyway, after we finishing the Hooked on Phonics program for preschoolers, I bought the next one--Hooked on Phonics for kindergarteners. That is the program we are doing now in which he sounds out simple three letter words. Our current program came with about thirty little books for him to read. All have anthropomorphic animals, but since he is very clear on reality at this point, I'm okay with it. Moreover, we talk about it. Because he has not grown up with any exposure to anthropomorphic animals, he thinks the idea of a cat speaking English or driving a car is absolutely hilarious.

If Anders had chosen to not learn how to read until he was seven or even eleven I would have been okay with it, but it would have surprised me. My hypothesis was that the number one thing I could do to encourage my son to read was not reading to him, but rather, reading. Just by being myself and doing what I consider enjoyable, I modeled a behavior that my son decided to acquire.

But he's only three. He may decide to take a break on learning to read while he focuses on mastering some other skill. He may take a break for years. He may be able to read, but chose not to. He may be able to read, but be a terrible reader. And of course he could be reading right now not because of any behavior I modeled, but because it is in his DNA, i.e. it could be nature and not nurture.

Also, I don't want to make it sound like I buy into the "kids must be readers!!!!" ideal. Anders's reading is an exciting result in my parenting experiment and an exciting milestone for me as a parent. But I am not trying to make him "a reader." I think many parents think reading is the cause rather than the effect of an active mind. Though I would agree reading can contribute to having an active mind, I think it can only contribute if the mind is already active.

Notes:
-A while back I read some interesting accounts of teachers from the 1800's complaining that picture books were making it impossible to teach children to read. "The kids stare at the pictures instead of the words!" the teachers wrote into newspapers.
-When I worked with kids I read to them a lot and found it to be very unsatisfying. Babies just wanted to eat the books. Toddlers memorized ridiculous nonsense and, worse, received parental approval for spouting ridiculous nonsense. Preschoolers internalized terrible ideas about life like magical-thinking and control-oriented relationships. So not only did I find reading to children to be unsatisfying because of the behavior it produced in the children, I found almost all kids books to be philosophically horrific and simply not fun for me.

Addendums:
-Before I got the Hooked on Phonics program I tried the Kumon program which I found even more horrific in terms of propaganda. I will do an entire post about in the future.
-I did get Anders one alphabet toy--magnets--so he could feel the letters with his fingers. I got rid of them after a month as they made my kitchen ugly, and I just didn't think it was necessary.
-Anders has two Montessori letter games on our iPad that he plays on airplanes, which is to say, not often.
-I did read Anders thirty or so versions of The Three Little Pigs and The Little Red Hen while I was researching these stories for myself when he was a little over three. So he did get to hear some picture books.
-The Hooked on Phonics program instructed me to teach the ABC song, and when Anders was very good at the letter sounds, I decided it wouldn't hurt, so I taught it to him. This turned out to be a terrible idea. He loved the song, of course, but it took us about three weeks to recover from its confusing influence i.e. he still says "pee" sometimes instead of "puh" when he is trying to sound out a word.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

You Realized You Had No Intrinsic Self, Then What?

When I first wrote this post I told a fictional story that simply didn't work. After publishing it I realized that something just wasn't working, so I took it down. Now I am going to do the exercise of saying as simply as possible what it is that I was trying to say:

A reader emailed me recently, "You realized you had no intrinsic self, then what?"

-When I began "looking for my authentic self" I imagined a blissful life of only internally motivated pursuits. I had read that most people need years of "unwinding" before they could even begin tinkering with their authentic selves, but what I didn't read is that that "unwinding" can look and feel a lot like depression.
-My journey to authenticity began with a long period of feeling quite sad, sad about myself, about life, about the world, about death. I didn't make the connection at first that what I was feeling was what  I had read about--"unwinding" was not an accurate description of my experience. Perhaps "unwinding" is what happens when a ten-year-old recovers from a few years of school. Perhaps some adults unwind happily, and it was just my experience that was so negative. But... I don't think so.
-I think it is really hard for us to be honest around the subject of unhappiness. I realized this while I was reading The History of Happiness by Darrin McMahon. People have been writing about happiness and the search for inner truth since ancient Greece, and up until two hundred years ago they were pretty frank about the suffering it involved.
-Luckily, I didn't have a problem with the unhappiness I felt (though a couple of my friends did!) When I was in my mid-twenties a French friend of mine invited me to dinner, and I said, "How about tomorrow? I am in a really bad mood today. You do not want to hang out with me." He replied, "Oh you Americans! You think life is supposed to be like Disneyland all the time, and if you're depressed something is wrong with you. I'm French. I don't have a problem with depressed people!" From that moment on, I stopped having a problem with feelings of depression or melancholy or sadness, which enabled me to get to know parts of myself I had long disowned. But I also found a great deal of resistance from my American friends. It seems to me that almost all Americans instantly transform into Mr. Fix-it when you even remotely hint that you may not be Disney Happy. Or they become the Peppy Police and basically disown you unless you agree to put your smile on.
-Which brings me to the road to authenticity and what I want to say: I have seen many people start their journey toward authenticity only to encounter sadness, darkness, depression, whatever you want to call it, and drug out or give up. Or fake out.
-I would like to suggest to adults who come to realize they have no intrinsic motivation and want to find it, that it may require some sadness, perhaps years of sadness. I would like to say that the more honest books I have read admit this, and that it's okay. You will come through. I think back to how Joseph Campbell warned me in his Hero With a Thousand Faces, but I didn't understand the warning (and I don't think I could have).
-I have only been on this road for seven-ish years. Thus far, authenticity isn't a blissful childlike state of joy. At least for me, it is more like peace. I feel a great deal of peace. And clarity which I like too.
-I don't feel unhappy anymore as an overall state, but I would say I am in touch with those feelings when they arise, and I really don't have a problem with them. And I think this is hard for many people to understand--at least one person is going to read this post and worry about me, and it's so hard to explain but: I'm okay. On the days when I say I'm feeling terribly depressed, I'm okay. If I am crying and miserable, I'm okay. Positive emotions feel wonderful! And negative ones feel terrible, and it's okay.

So: I realized I had no self and then… I flailed about feeling confused. Felt. Accepted. Acknowledged. Resisted. Rested. Rested more. Rested more than I ever thought possible. Got bored. Read a lot. Talked to people. Accepted more. Allowed more. Allowed feelings that many people would forbid. And when I was ready to accept the really intense feelings, I gave up all my drugs. That was the most useful thing I did.

On drugs: Our drugs enable us to live lives we couldn't otherwise live.

You go to work. You come home. You are so exhausted all you can do is watch TV and have a beer. So you do. And you do that every day for years. If someone took away your TV and your beer, you would come home from work and stare at the wall and most likely end up feeling your pain. Maybe you would cry or rage or think about killing yourself. Without your drugs you are forced to confront reality.

Two months ago my husband did an experiment where he gave up his drug (TV) and after two weeks of laying in bed in pain after work, he announced he could no longer live this life, and we were finally going to move to Nicaragua full time.

Our drugs enable us to live lives we couldn't otherwise live. If you don't have the drug to help get you through your life… you will have to change your life.

Any substance can be a spice, a medicine, or a drug. It's all about our relationship with the substance, how we use it. Chocolate or a glass of wine can be something that spices up your life and brings you sparkling joy! Or it can be the medicine that changes your mood. Or it can be the way you numb out.

For me, I found that I never actually numb out. I don't do chocolate or movies or wine to the point of numbness. But I was a total self-medicater! Removing my self-medications was actually really easy, partly because the threat is that without your medicine you will suffer and suffering just wasn't a big deal to me anymore, and partly because I am "allowed" to have all of the above substances as long as I have them for the right reason… Which means I basically never get to have them because, as it turns out, I almost never want chocolate, wine, or movies for joy. I usually want them as medicine.

But back to authenticity and what I had wanted to express:

I hope that anyone heading out on their journey does not get put off by their first negative feelings and think something is wrong with them. Or at least, whatever is wrong with you is wrong with me too :)

*For those of you who read the first post and want to get back to the very interesting discussion about the limits of NVC and presence: I will post about it soon! One of the problems in the first version of this post is that I was confusing two ideas.