Wednesday, 1 December 2010

In praise of.....

Now it's not often I write to praise someone without having to see them buried, but today I am looking at the blessings count tick rapidly upwards with a "How the hell did I get this lucky?" grin on my face.

It's difficult sometimes to encapsulate the enormity of someone else's achievement when very few can understand the precise ramifications. Only those who have ever laboured over thankless tasks can envisage what a simple step can mean, not for one person, but for an entire family.

Just over a week ago, a seven year old boy finally began to read. Yeah, okay, fine, you might say, what is so momentous about that? Reading isn't such a big deal, I do it all the time, so what's new? Yawn. Spare us the hyperbole, Bill.

All right. Here's the story. The details are obscured for reasons of confidentiality, but one of the key players is my own very clever wife, Mrs S, who runs a modest personal tutoring service.

Several months ago, Mrs S was engaged to help with the reading for a low literacy family. Specifically for the youngest of the clan, who has been very slow in coming to read, and as a by product had a lot of poorly directed energy. In short, he was driving his Mother, Father, and two other siblings to distraction. His siblings were falling behind in school because their seven year old little brother was diverting their attention from their studies, his Mother was constantly chiding him, and his Father had become too exasperated with his tantrums to help, so the only attention the little boy got was when he misbehaved. The vicious circle of bad behaviour attention seeking was becoming established with all the attendant strains on the rest of the family.

Other tutors had been hired, but none had been able to crack the attention deficit. The parents relationship was becoming ever more strained. They had run out of ideas.

So what has happened? What has a little boy learning to read got to do with it? Read on, and all will become plain. The boy didn't want to read. He only liked the pictures in comics and ignored the text. It was not that he couldn't, it was that he wouldn't. Subsequently, without enough to engage his own innate intelligence he became bored stiff, and took out that boredom on the rest of his family. There hangs the key to this tale.

Without learning to read, as an adult he would be doomed to remain at the bottom of the job pile, forever scratching a living in low status jobs and squandering his talents. Perhaps he might drift into substance abuse or dealing. Without the ability to search for information he would never know the revelation of a new idea, gleaned from his own study. In short, his bright spark of intelligence would be wasted, and no doubt pissed on by others whose only status comes from bullying those they see as lesser souls. All through his young life his mother and father would struggle, and grieve that they had somehow 'failed' their child. Perhaps the strain on their relationship would cause a split, forever screwing up the lives of his two older siblings. Who can forsee these outcomes? Yet the likelihood is that they would not be happy ones.

Bringing up children, especially not your own, can easily become a destruction test of any relationship. When you are helplessly struggling against the riptide of a disruptive child, it's even worse.

A couple of months ago, Mrs S was hired to visit twice a week. She began by reading to the boy, which didn't work. He was distracted and wouldn't pay attention. She talked to him about reading. "Books are boring!" He would protest. Reading was seen by him as something unmanly, which was why his mother could not read to him, and because he was too disruptive, his father would not try. So Mrs S engaged with him, talking to him about what he thought he knew and how he saw the world. At no time did she ever directly challenge his beliefs, because then, in the words of his mother, the 'shutters would go up' and the cause would be lost. She recounted these long rambling conversations with me, and even I could see the massive obstacles to the boys future. She told me of her frustrations, what tactics she'd used and how they had failed, until a few days ago, when she finally found a book that engaged the boys interest enough to get him to sit still for five minutes and simply listen. What the book was doesn't matter, as what will engage and enervate one will simply bore another. Suffice it to say, it took Mrs S four weeks of exploring bookshops and the Library to find the right combination. Once he had listened, he wanted to find out for himself. Once he began to hunt and peck through the streams of words, his reading acuity progressed rapidly.

A week ago, she pried overt permission for the boy to read in bed. According to his Mother, he began to read himself to sleep. The dogs, ever the barometer of the household, began to greet Mrs S like an old friend and pack member whenever she arrived for a her bi-weekly tutoring session, not barking when she arrived, but milling around with wagging tails before settling. Previously they had always barked in those short, choppy 'stranger coming' barks that dogs use when they are anxious or perturbed.

Last night, Mrs S told me triumphantly, for the first time, a father read his son a bedtime story. The boys father had wanted to do this for a long time but his son had always pushed him away with his bad behaviour. Now the Father sat down at the end of the day because his son insisted, begged even. "Read to me Daddy." So the Father did. Today his Mother read to him in front of Mrs S. Also for the first time. Then the boy began to read, and later sat still and listened attentively while others read to him. He has discovered the pleasures of narrative.

In this I think my wife has done something remarkable that may save a life, help prevent a break up, and perhaps even give better futures to not one, but three children. Just by getting one disruptive boy to read.

For this alone I believe my wife is worthy of praise. I am glad to say without even a trace of irony, "All hail Mrs S!"

I count myself truly fortunate to be married to her.


Angry Exile said...

Great story, Bill. Mrs Sticker has undoubtably touched a life and changed it for the better. Tell her good on her from me, and Akubra very much doffed in her direction. She might have to squint to see it from the opposite corner of the Pacific.

delcatto said...

Hats off to Mrs Sticker. Cracking story and she's worth her weight in diamonds.

Scoakat said...

I'm awed. Great story, Bill. Great Mrs.

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