It's the ambitious parent's worst nightmare: a kid who moves his lips when he reads. How will he ever experience neurosis and loss?!
Write Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella in Slate,
As a parent, you feel a special deep panic when you realize that your child—your beautiful, clever, funny child, who regularly surprises you with precocious bons mots, who built an ingenious bow out of tubing and rubber bands that can shoot a chopstick across the living room with remarkable accuracy—is having trouble learning to read. Meanwhile, all the other kids appear to be breezing along, polishing off Harry Potter books while your child stumbles over the difference between "how" and "now."
While they warn against neurosis, the authors then contradict themselves with the dire words,
Reading ability does predict school achievement and success (which is, of course, related to income, health, and other factors), and reading gains ever greater importance beyond school, as more jobs are now based on information and technology. Failure to read places significant limits on how one fares in other parts of life. And a lot of people never do learn to read well.
They go on to identify the factors necessary in learning to read and suggest techniques (starting in infancy, natch) to help your child gain comfort with reading skills; the kinds of simple books and nursery rhymes that aid in development, the importance of reading aloud. Okay. Great. So now your child can read, and everything will be okay. Or will it? Because, just by chance, a piece by Michelle Slatalla in the New York Times deals explicitly with the tragedy of learning to read too well - of being forced by the rigors of education to read a s a skeptical, analytical adult rather than with a child's wonder.
Unfortunately there is only a narrow window of time, after one learns to read but before one gets old enough to read critically, to fully appreciate the sweet sadness of “Mick Harte Was Here” or the orphan’s longing in “Taash and the Jesters” — I read that one eight times the summer I was 10 — or the trapped restlessness of being the teenaged “Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones.” Among my three daughters, whose ages are 19, 17 and 11, I see signs of an inevitable progression toward being skeptical readers.
This is some of the same ground Caitlin Flanagan covered when she discussed the particular magic a fantasy world can hold for a young girl (not shockingly, Slatalla invokes Twilight, too) and certainly there's a particular magic to a child's reading. But is reading as a grown up really that empty?
Now, it's no author's fault that these two pieces should overlap, and it's a bit cheap to use the confluence to diminish the very real truths addressed in both. However, it's undeniable that the contrast it sets up leaves us with a vision of modern childhood as menaced by varying fears: the boundaries of scientific achievement on one hand, the obsession with romaticized childhood on the other - and, over all, the sense that at the end of the day so much of it is a reflection on the parent. Learn at the approved level, test appropriately - and then we'll have the luxury of watching your childhood slip away! Yes, a child who can't read is a worrisome thing for any parent, I imagine, and yes, the rigors of adulthood complicate our relationship with fiction. But 1)being in the slow reading group in first grade is apparently no barrier to making one's living as a professional writer and 2)neurosis can do more to hinder a pleasure in reading than anything else...my brother, who had trouble reading, found the process so fraught that, although perfectly capable of cracking a book, as an adult he listens exclusively to audiobooks. Whether he does so with childlike wonder is an open question...I'll suggest my mom get on a "Modern Love" about it, stat.