The word was frustrating me.
She couldn’t say it. She kept repeating it and it was wrong.
‘Sound it out’ I kept saying, my voice becoming more insistent with each time she said the word particular.
While particular is a perfectly good word, it was not the word written on the page.
The word in the book’s title was peculiar which was exactly how I defined the situation we were facing.
I found it peculiar that a seventh-grader didn’t know how to sound out a word.
I realized she was reading from memorization and when she couldn’t figure out the words, she substituted with something from her verbal inventory of vocabulary.
‘Did you ever learn phonics’, I asked? ‘You know, Hooked on Phonics?’
She gave me a blank stare which answered my question immediately and I knew she had never been hooked on anything, much less phonics.
I was appalled.
Here I was, a member of the Doubleday Book Club at the age of seven and my niece was having trouble reading. Where did I go wrong?
I started asking her if she had read the classics for children her age and she couldn’t name any of them.
This kid didn’t know about Charlotte and her friend Wilbur, she had never traveled to Treasure Island, she didn’t know Tom S or Huck F and when I asked her about the Brothers Grimm she gave me yet another blank stare.
As I entered my period of grief for a bygone era of nostalgic children’s literature she had never experienced, I realized how much of a disservice we have done to our kids with this plethora of info available at their fingertips.
We’ve given them access to everything at the hands of a web browser and yet they can’t spell. They have an entire library of knowledge from which to learn, but their attention spans don’t allow them to focus on anything long enough to grasp the concepts. We’ve automated their homework and controlled their playtime and social interaction in the form of ‘dates’. Worst of all, we’ve crippled them in their use of words and language and literature, almost rendering their imaginations useless to create the worlds we inhabited as children ourselves.
As I explained to my niece that we needed to correct this and that I would certainly help her, she gave me a puzzling look that said I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
‘They are just words’, she said.
And with the words of a child, my particular heart, a lover of words for as far back as I could remember, in a peculiar way, broke.