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Publisher's Note: The magic of reading

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By Tom McDonald

When I was a kid, I think I was dyslexic, only I didn’t know it. I don’t think anybody knew it. Years later, when I was in my 20s, my mother figured it out. She learned what dyslexia is, and remembered how I would read words backwards.

I didn’t become much of a reader until I quit college at age 20.

Actually, I read Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest” and loved it, then I quit school. (A dozen years and numerous jobs later, I returned for the degree I had previously abandoned.) But I kept reading, novels mostly, with my favorite being just about anything by John Steinbeck.

I’m still a slow reader, but I get by, and have even managed to make a career out of wordsmithing.

My two daughters, on the other hand, are fast and prolific readers. It started at home, with their mother and me reading bedtime stories to them when they were still in the crib. By the time they got to “chapter books” they each had a passion for reading.

Which brings us to the Harry Potter series. After my older daughter became an enthusiast, I read the first one to see what all the excitement was about. I confess that Sorcerer’s Stone is all I’ve read — it’s just not my kind of genre — but I’ve come to appreciate what J.K. Rowling did for an entire generation of young people.

Years ago, I read that computers have changed the way people read and process information. Traditionally, comprehension came through linear reading — by following a sequence of words that lead from one thought to the next. But more and more, we’re using a non-linear approach, where information comes in bits and pieces; it’s like we’re multitasking our way through the learning process.

Maybe my work process is a good example: Over the course of writing this column, so far, I’ve looked up “dyslexia” in Wikipedia (for spelling and a better understanding of it) double-checked the spelling of “Kesey” and “sorcerer” on Google, and googled “linear reading” to make sure I am remembering what I read years ago.

Oh, and I’ve taken a phone call and checked my e-mail a couple of times — though that has nothing to do with this week’s column.

But I digress, as can so easily be done in this non-linear, multi-tasking world in which we live. It’s our children’s world, perhaps more so, since they’ve grown up with the computer as their main source of information. And yet, into this high-tech world the Harry Potter series arose.

Seven books, thousands of pages, all told in the traditional linear reading format — and being devoured by young people.

I think J.K. Rowling is one of the most influential authors of all time.

Maybe Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) taught kids to read, but Rowling made them fall, deeply, in love with it.

Now that’s what I call magic.

• • •

Such magic, however, flies in the face of something else I believe, and I’m not sure how to reconcile the two. I think reading is the single most important ingredient to a good education, and yet public education, with its vast reservoir of emphatic Potter readers as students, is failing in a number of ways. Why are we failing to educate these young readers in ways that keep up with other advanced nations?

Last week, we learned that nearly 87 percent of New Mexico’s schools failed to meet adequate-yearly-progress standards imposed by the federal government. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal myself, because I’ve never been convinced that the standards set by No Child Left Behind were that good to begin with. But, as a parent, I do see problems in our schools. A disciplined approach to learning, for example, seems to be at an all-time low.

Plus, I think there’s a disconnect between parents and teachers. Some parents have come to distrust their kids’ teachers, and some teachers, who sense this distrust, have simply given up.

I wish we could wave a magic wand over that problem and make it go away. But what do I know — I still believe in cigam spelled backwards.

Tom McDonald is the Optic’s editor and publisher. He may be reached at 505-425-6796 or tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com.