Reading the Need

Note: This is an archived site. Ideally, one should read only what is recommended. Each piece was written for a specific audience, for a particular purpose. Lack of context can make the articles puzzling, off-putting. THIS IS UNEDITED, a piece in progress. This was written for select members of SAY, for the purpose of soliciting feedback, and stirring up conversation. For as I complete the necessary to become a volunteer, I am exploring/testing the waters in their quarters. I’m not attached to the ideas herein, or even the thrust of what I am proposing. I do believe, however, that it is obligatory to at least have discussion about alternatives… to what is being practiced at present.

Reading the Need
Dedicated to Anita, Matt and Julie of SAY
by Ox

So… after forty plus years in academia, I’m asking the question What’s the need to read? Yes, of course, reading can give immense pleasure (change one’s life!), and reading often secures valuable information, or provides priceless moments of distraction. But… the pleading for reading among so-called responsible, well-intentioned, highly-educated adults (bleeding depleted budgets dry at times) is usually about making children into good citizens as per the parameters delineated in Reading in schools is the rage, of course. But if Americans knew where their educational system came from, they might… nay, they would have second and third thoughts about how teachers go about teaching reading, why they teach the kids to read. Without really knowing why themselves. That link above addresses some of this blah blah. It’s worthwhile reading, for sure.

Think of it this way. If it were the 50s you wouldn’t want your children reading about the glories of Joseph Stalin or the importance of Joseph McCarthy, yes? If you — in any decade — were providing reading material for youngsters, you wouldn’t want them reading about how All roads led to Rome during the height of the Empire… without putting that fact into a context that underscored how one of the reasons the roads were constructed that way was so that Roman soliders could march four abreast into any province and put down revolt more easily. Yes?

And how about reading regarding other realms? Let’s take the escalating crisis in Japan. You wouldn’t want students to research the country at a library which collection leads readers to believe that Nippon is all about chrysanthemums and geisha girls, would you? No, of course not. You’d want them to know about the abomination currently raging. And you’d want them to know how that horror endangers us at this very moment, how it has been affecting us to date. Or would you? [Pause.] I mean there is the old argument that we should avoid — at all costs — exposing pupils to too many downsides in life. [Pause.] Well, if you’re living almost anywhere in the U.S. today the costs of such sins of omission are far too great to honor such ignorance. Especially if you’re studying anywhere near California’s San Onofre or New York’s Indian Point Energy Center, 38 miles north of the Big Apple… where my daughter lives.

Yes, this is very personal. For all the children are my children. They are my lifeblood as much as Mother Earth is my source of survival, the sustenance of which we all need. Reading? Let’s inject a little perspective into academia for a moment, shall we?

Yes, we may need to read to secure employment. But it does matter what kind of job we will consider. Let’s say that a vacancy opens up at IKEA. Solid gig, yes? No. Why?

My belle, Ellen Ruppel Shell, says (in Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture) there’s a good chance that the table you buy from IKEA, cheaply assembled in China, is manufactured from illegally harvested wood. IKEA, the world’s third largest consumer of wood, has been called “the least sustainable retailer on the planet.” IKEA, the Walmart of the hipster demographic, has “stoked a ‘cut and consume’ cycle that is destroying the world’s forests at a rate unprecedented in human history.” Oh, but you need a job? Yeah, my biological children do too, but you’d never see me encouraging employment which contributes to the end of all life on the planet. Not any more than I would hand them over at a tender age, or any age, to a military machine which was likely to destroy them for life as it did business as usual as the greatest single source of pollution on earth. Oh, you didn’t know that? What are you reading? Are you reading? If so, what are your sources?

No one has time to discuss such matters, do they? Everyone is caught up with frantically trying to get their piece of the pie, their moment in the sun. Doing their own thing, as they see fit, the slightest hint of movement in meaningful solidarity be damned. It’s the times, they say. Then the say, Get out of my way. Civility Has also, as you know (I trust), bit the dust. Gone south, just as reading from actual books — not Kindle crap* — is fast disappearing. Well, none of that will do.

*I haven’t met one person who knows that when one underlines with Kindle it kicks back to a Kindle Center, recording your preferences for strangers forever. Neither have I met many who care about the fact that Kindle and other high tech gadgets contribute to the cancer toll and other ills.

I know that it’s like fighting a five-hundred-foot wave with a teaspoon, this biz of confronting the challenges of our day. But it’s literally a matter of whether or not life will be worth living in the near future. One cannot turn totally away from the unhealthy momentum of stuff like s-are-even-worse-than-you-think-by-arun-gupta without packing the whole shebang in for good. In France, the government — at a truly great expense — recently took out all the Wi-Fi from its national library system and educational institutions. Why? Because they READ definitive documentation which damned the radiation which was routinely exposing one and all to cancer-related and other risks. How? From EMF exposure. Y’know the kind of stuff you hear a little bit about in the newspapers now and then — a magazine here and there — regarding cell phones and smart meters. Here, in the U.S., however, there’s virtually no discussion about the issues. Why? Well, in part because no one is reading anything in depth about what has been called in Europe “the greatest health experiment in history.”

The powers that be don’t want that discussion to take place. They do not encourage inquiry about what students’ families use daily courtesy of Monsanto (or its unscrupulous first corporate cousins) either. That’s what schools — as things presently stand — are for. To ensure that the parameters for reading (which they set) are honored, the status quo preserved. Well, we have to set our own standards, create our own choices… if we are going to survive and enjoy the blessings of being on this earth.

So whether we’re teaching reading in the public school system, at home, or in the type of environment provided by wonderful organizations such as SAY in Santa Rosa… the kind of reading that is encouraged needs to be reviewed. I say that in all humility, but I say that with firm conviction.

For SAY’s goals –undeniably honorable — related to hope, opportunities, transformation and a reduction in homelessness cannot be realized without a radical restructure in approach, in attitudinal set. Institutional alteration must be considered.

Back in the late 60s there was an Edwin Starr recording that was the rage. It asks a question, and it provides an answer.

One might also ask Reading, what is it good for?

The answer must come in terms other than what was appropriate for the 60s, however. These are different times. And one does not want to respond within an obsolete framework. For we — none of us — want to become obsolete.

We are obliged to read the need today.

Blessings in educational solidarity,
P.S. I know that non-profit organizations have strict parameters respecting certain activity. Those limitations are set for reasons that serve the powers that be very well… and contribute to homelessness. I want Matt and Julie to know that I have no intention of involving SAY in anything which would violate the legal restrictions on which its tax status is contingent. Rather, in pushing the envelope, so to speak, I am appealing to SAY members as individual citizens with hearts in a healthy place.