The End of Thinking

I was born in 1962. In 1967, Mrs. Bellows taught me how to read. In fact, she taught every kid in our kindergarten class how to read. She used slate chalk boards and big pieces of chalk. The letters of the alphabet displayed over the top of the board. Our wooden desks still had the hole in them where the ink well was supposedly to sit. We did not have computers or anything too fancy for a class-room.What we had was Mrs. Bellows.

In order to learn how to read, we were first presented with the letters of the alphabet. Mrs. Bellows had a ladder depicted on the wall and between each of the rungs was a letter of the alphabet. She stood up at the ladder with her point stick and when it was your turn, you'd stand up and say the letter of the alphabet that Mrs.. Bellows was pointing to. She went down the ladder and then back up the ladder. We did not just learn to say the alphabet, we were learning to recognize the letters. You had to because she pointed them out in both directions so you could not just say the letter from memory. When you passed this test, your picture went above the ladder of letters. We all wanted our pictures up there. No child wanted to be left behind:)

The funniest thing happened to me in kindergarten. I learned how to say the alphabet backwards. When it was my turn to stand up, I already knew the drill from the previous day when I'd seen other kids go through this process. So that night, I had my Mom write the letters on a piece of paper and show me how to say them exactly the way Mrs. Bellows would point them out. When it was my turn to stand up in class, I informed Mrs. Bellows that I Did not Need to Look. She played along and I, completely missing the point of the process, regurgitated the letters frontwards and backwards. She was impressed. She took me to the principle's office (my first time) and had me do it for him. I then got a Red Cross button to wear on my shirt and I did not even have to pay a nickel for it! I was on cloud-9. And of course my picture made it to the top of the ladder, right next to Tammy Dickinson's (the first girl I ever kissed).

Every kid in our class ever got his picture posted on the top of the letter ladder – in the order in which we completed the task. Back then, competition was still allowed in the classroom and there was a sense of pride associated with getting this accomplished. I did not mind that Tammy was on the board before I was, I claimed her for it. I'm not sure when I decided to kiss her but I think that may have bought her down to my level. We continued to be academically competitive but we were pretty good friends too.

The next course was to run through the alphabet and make the sounds that each letter made. We learned vowels first – long-a and short-a. (And e, i, o and u's). We learned all the sounds of the consonants. In all, we learned all 46 sounds that you could make with the 26 letters we learned earlier. Not only that, but we were able to recognize which of those 26 letters were used singly or in combination to make those sounds. (That's when Mrs. Bellows recognized that I could not say my s's. I started speech therapy immediately and that would continue through the third grade.No drama, it was just part of the process.)

About mid-year, Mrs. Bellows handed each kid in the class their first book! It was a book about a dog named Spot (figures, I could not say my s's). Since we could recognize the letters that made the sounds that made up all the words, it was time to start reading! And we did. For the rest of the year, we each took our turn reading out loud to the class. We read boods about Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. Any then came the grand finale. We were going to put on a play for the rest of the school as well as our parents. I very proudly took the part of the Smart Little Pig! We did not have video cameras or even regular cameras so all I have of that play is a memory. Anyways, that was the year I learned to read.

Mrs. Bellows retired that same year. A more "progressive" teacher took her place. My brother did not reach the same level of reading until the third grade. Phonics was removed from the classroom and replaced with "whole word" reading. From that point on, we were teaching kids not to think. Strangely, someone decided it was easier to sort of remember what a word looks like than it was to learn 26 letters, 46 sounds and some rules on how they are combined. I believe that this is where it began to happen – the development of a bunch of non-thinkers.

I can envision a day where someone decides that it's too much hassle to learn to read. And why? We do not need this antiquated form of communication any more. How babies can navigate multimedia stories on a computer before they can walk and talk has already made big news. The Internet is dominated by text but as an internet consultant I have to tell my clients to write "scannable" text. The media sites are already taking over and my advice now is get on the video bandwagon. Google has already announced the ability to index audio with speech to text recognition and will give sites a big bonus for having "rich media". We are moving toward a multi-media driven Internet. In five years, you will not have that ubiquitous keyboard on your phone either, you'll be talking and passing audio messages. We click on You-Tube videos now. The media outlets are the targets and the bumpers and we're the pinballs. And this is how it happens. We just passed a 1000 page bill in the Senate, spent $ 1,000,000,000,000 dollars and not one of the people that voted for it could possibly read it.