Ursula K. Le Guin:

Socrates said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." He wasn't talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.

and so it begins

In May I wrote about Willow wanting me to help her learn how to read. Like Jake's pattern of reading learning, she was intensely interested for about an hour, and then for months nothing. With Jake we were a little worried, especially two, three, four years after the initial teaching fiasco, but then suddenly he was reading adult-level fiction. Oh. Okay. So with Noah we weren't nearly as concerned, even when he never asked for help at all, but still we were relieved when he started reading. Finally, with Willow, it just feels normal and totally unremarkable. It's not any longer just that the theory of self-intuited developmental readiness makes sense. We are now true believers.

Today Noah sat reading over my shoulder as I was editing a blog post. I'd read this post over at least a dozen times, as I wanted to be careful that I was representing myself accurately. When I finally clicked "save" and went to view the page, he said, "Wait, wait, go back!" Wha? I thought, but he was so excited I just did it. "Scroll down, scroll down... there! You forget to put a 'to' in there!" So now my son, who has had no reading instruction, is proofreading my writing for me.

I had to smile. I love so much, contrary to what we've all been taught, that it's something that just happens. Like learning to walk, learning to talk. It will be. Not all at the same time, all in the same way. But it will be. The first stick drawing a child does of a person is neat to see, and yes the environment and means are crucial to that happening, but the reaction isn't "oh thank god," as if there was ever any concern that she would never draw a stick person. This is no different. At all. And it's such a lovely place to be, a calm place with progress just being a given, every step of the way knowing that it's exactly what it needs to be.

Exactly the way, in fact, that it is for people who learn to read early enough that they can't remember ever not reading or being taught aside from being read to. "She's a natural!" we say, when someone seems to have an innate aptitude for something. The mistake we made is in assuming that natural, in the case of reading learning, is necessarily defined as precocious. A mistake that has many kids, once they turn six, being made to believe that they are inherently lacking in some way, struggling, miserable, angry, losing faith in themselves and in their mentors.

My kids are naturals, and they know it. And I mean they know it. Like they know that the sky is blue or that if they leap up they will fall back down to the ground. I didn't have to tell them; it's just the way things are. If they were in school, they wouldn't know it, because, as "late" readers, the potentiality would have been stolen from them before they had a chance to.

That seems to me that it would have been quite a loss. Others don't agree with me, I know that. They think that we took a chance and got lucky. But what evidence is this oh-so-intellectual analysis based in? Tell me, who decided that age 6 is the universally developmentally best time to learn how to read? Who has proved this? No one, actually. That's right, a culture-wide belief system about what is best for people is supported by nothing more than simple convention. I just find this outrageous. Are there really that many people incapable of reason?

But that was us. We worried! We fretted! We encouraged! We taught! We got frustrated! Eventually quieting ourselves for Jake's sake, but still feeling that twinge on the inside. Thinking, So many people believe this. We don't know why, but maybe they're right for reasons that we, that maybe nobody, really understands. I think, in fact, that a lot of our early parenting was sort of agnostic in that way. I'm so annoyed by this now. We knew, in our soul, in our bones, in our cells, what was authentic, what was normal and okay. But the religion of modern parenting was so loud and insistent. Who can just be, and let life unfold as it already knows perfectly well how to, with dogma thrumming in your ears? It's not that easy.

So now we're in November. Willow turned seven in July. Recently, with no prodding from me, and with no signs of being interested, she simply took a book off the shelf and started copying what she saw. She worked on it for a long time and was very pleased with it. I was too. I like the very careful and consistent way she made her letters. I like how she circled related things. I like the little person she slipped in there. And then she stopped, and hasn't done any writing or reading since. Which is exactly what she needed to do.

You know what the schools would think about it, don't you? Too late. Not correct. Not enough. We'd be sad if we thought that. But we don't have to, because she's not in school, and because we know better now. So we don't. And so she gets to be a natural too, along with all the four-, five-, and six-year-old naturals, letting her ableness evolve and shine through in its own perfect time and in its own perfect way.