All Hands on Deck
I got a hankering to read “Treasure Island” the other day, and went looking for a copy of it. I have a shelf devoted to some of the classics I used to teach when I was hanging out in the middle school, but there was no copy of the novel I was seeking. Upon further research, I not only found what I was looking for, I found a hardbound copy that I think may have been a Christmas present to a son, many seasons ago.
In any case I am delighted to be able to revisit the account of the greatest of all adventures, and one of the earliest examples I can think of, where good and evil were presented to me in such ambiguous terms, as to make me realize how complicated the whole process could be.
|Evil Long John Silver|
Good and evil are not as easy to distinguish as white and black. Was I supposed to perceive Long John Silver as evil, because Jim Hawkins actually witnessed him murdering the honest sailor, Tom, in cold-blood? Or was I to look at him as good because he protected Jim against the other cutthroats?
As a kid I used reading as an escape mechanism. I was small and wiry, with three older brothers and three younger brothers. To say I sought attention is akin to saying that Hurricane Matthew sought attention; I was not a child to be ignored.
I learned early on that there was a right time to seek attention and a wrong time, and the wrong time was anytime that Papa was in the vicinity. Take those hour-long rides in the 1951 Plymouth, on our way to visit Noel at school, when I would ride on the floor right behind Papa, among the legs of those riding in the back seat.
I was that small.
I also had a book at all times, a necessity for being able to escape a potentially hazardous setting, one which involved my incurring the wrath of Papa. A copy of “The Prince and the Pauper” was more than adequate to do the job.
Reading not only entertained me, it kept out of trouble, a twofer if ever there were one. As a family we would go visit Mama’s older sister, Frances, or as we called her, Sister Mary Petra. I was an adult before I ever remember referring to her as Aunt Frances, and when we visited her at the convent, we would seat ourselves in the most formal of settings, the parlor of this elegant edifice.
All of us in our family, dressed in Sunday-go-to-meeting outfits, would be seated silently around the room, and if someone did ask a question or make a comment, it was in hushed tones or even a whisper. Fortunately for me, books were not only acceptable, they were encouraged, until, of course, Sister Mary came into the room.
After devoting my life to reading, I find I am less adventurous than I used to be, when it comes to staying current with what’s out there. I always have a book going but more often than not, it is exactly that: an adventure that is more likely to be “Treasure Island,” than the National Best-Seller, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”
All the years I was in the classroom, with all levels of ability under one roof except for special-needs kids, I used to read most of each novel I taught, out loud. For those who questioned why, I said the primary reason was that it gave access to the material to all students. Those who struggled to read, could not only follow the story, they had to read along.
How did I know they were reading along or not? I encouraged students to read aloud but did not insist in it. However, if I called your name to read, and you declined, you still had to be able to read the next line so that I knew you were with us.
Those who were “against” us would be easy enough to spot. If a student weren't following along, then her eyes would be somewhere other than on her book. It’s harder to keep one’s eyes clamped to the front of a book and not follow along, than it is to simply go with the flow.
[Editor’s note: Despite the recent revelation that the “singular they” is now acceptable, I chose to use “her,” instead, in the above example. I could have used “his” or I could have used both. “They?” Not yet…]
As a teacher, I was quite adept at navigating the classroom, using that strategy of proximity to keep potentially squirrelly kids on point, and taking in the next line or two of the story. That way I could cast my eyes adrift throughout the room, to ensure that all hands were still on deck.
Should a question arise in my mind, I would throw out a net. All one had to do to avoid it was to show you knew where we were at. What were the consequences of not knowing your place?
First, you lost face in front of me and your peers; second, it cost you participation points in my grade book, generally a way that a grade could be salvaged if you were struggling academically; finally, it put you on my radar, as a candidate to be called on again within the next fifteen minutes.
I did the voices, so that when Long John Silver was talking, I did the pirate thing. I never even made cameo appearances in the plays I directed, but I got my acting in, anyway. The longer I taught, the more dramatic I got. It was a gift, or a curse, if you were a student who was not enamored with the program.
Hey, we could have been diagraming sentences.
Now, the attraction to electronics is so strong, that parents need to have kids on board before they start hanging around their friends who are already plugged in. The best way, of course, is to read aloud to them from the earliest possible age, and the older they get, the more you read to them.
Not only does it promote comprehension and literacy, it promotes closeness between parent and child. Sharing this time together is a precursor to helping a kid with his homework when the time arrives.
Helping with schoolwork, especially projects, is a logical extension to the shared-reading experience, and with a solid foundation in place, the tutoring should go smoother.
Now when I see those memes on social media, which question the need for libraries, I bristle. The idea that libraries are outdated is so short-sighted as to be ludicrous. Notably are they essential to the fabric of our culture, they are the pathway to treasure chests of gold, such as that found in “Treasure Island.”
The only thing missing are the coordinates, and you’ll have to get those yourself.