One of the first things that I read after Patrick was born was that the French school system did not believe it was possible to teach a person with Down Syndrome to read. They actually stated that any evidence of someone with Down Syndrome reading was equivalent to training a monkey!! It was a trick, not reality. I remember getting my momma bear claws out and chiding whoever wrote that crap in my head: "Oh yeah, maybe that's true for all the French kids but look out -- my kid's no monkey! Get out of my way. My kid is going to read."
In preschool and kindergarten he focused on letter sounds and sight words and in first grade he was given a scientist of reading for a teacher, Mrs. Thompson. I had complete faith in her ability to teach Patrick, along with 34 other first graders, how to break that code. Two weeks into school I had a meeting with her. I'm sure she doesn't remember the exchange at all, but to me, Patrick's literacy hung in the balance. I asked her if he was going to be a good fit in her classroom. Did she think he could learn in there. With no hesitation, she assured me he could be there and that he would learn to read. Five years later, almost every night Patrick reads to me and almost every night I sit in awe as I hear his voice wrap around the words in print. Some nights, I can't help it and silent tears just come streaming down. My boy can read!
That might not seem like much when you've never had a memory of not knowing what those crazy scratches on paper meant but I'm reading a book right now called Life is So Good. It is the true story of George Dawson, a black man who did not learn to read until he was 98! Listening to the times he was in a restaurant and couldn't order off of a menu, feeling the times he knew he was cheated because someone realized he couldn't read, and knowing how many posters, newspapers, books, magazines, billboards, tickets, medicine bottles, doctors orders, cards, letters and life opportunities just passed him by like leaves blowing off of a tree makes me cringe. It's impossible to imagine being so cut off...so left out...so isolated and ashamed.
As I listen to a little voice sound out children's books beside me and feel that familiar curl of coziness as Caroline climbs aboard for another adventure I think of George. There is so much grace in shared stories, the written words of people from past ages sharing their observations and the beauty of letters coming together in a way that hasn't happened before. Reading is a comfort and sense of belonging to all of humanity; it's a highlighter pen for places to visit or people to meet, a spark that lights a fire, and a salve for the deepest wounds.
Today I'm grateful that I was given an opportunity to learn to read and know the love and power that comes from being able to seek information for yourself. I'm grateful for the educational opportunities that my children have been given -- for the schools and the teachers that believed in them. I'm grateful to live in a place where ALL children are educated and I'm profoundly moved that I can continue the circle of education with beginning teachers. Today, I'm going to appreciate print and the immeasurable joy reading has given me my entire life and I'm going to finally find out who taught George to read..