>”A child’s mind isn’t a blank slate; it’s more of a jungle. Each time a parent helps a toddler read, the child is walked through this jungle from one side to the other. Trip after trip, a seemingly impossible passage becomes a well worn path. Children sent to kindergarten skipping merrily along this path to litaracy fare far better than those sent to school with machetes.” — Keith Mastrion — ““Reading Man” and 1998 National Teacher of the Year.

When I was young, my mother took me to the public library every Saturday morning to sort through piles of books as if they were rubies and gems in a treasure box so large and so full, you couldn’t take it all so you had to choose. There was always something else to read. More than cartoons, more than eating dry cereal, which was a weekend only treat, I remember the trips to the library with the utmost fondness. As I grew older, and we moved in with my Grandmother, my mother and I would ride our bikes to the library instead and still return with backpacks full of books.

While I led a fairly sheltered life that didn’t involve a lot of tv, mostly becasue I was often locked outside until my mother was done cleaning the house so that I wouldn’t “step in her dirt,” I was allowed as I grew older to read anything I wanted. Visual images, my mother asserted, were far more damaging, but words were okay. As a result, my favorite book in sixth grade was “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough, the story of a Catholic Priest in the outback who has a torrid love affair with a woman while trying to advance his place in the hierarchy of the church. Quality reading for a Catholic Schoolgirl, who’s fifth grade report card stated that she was no longer allowed to bring “story books” to school because she wasn’t not paying enough attention to her schoolwork in an effort to read more. It would be every teacher’s dream to have students who wanted to read that much, I would think.

“The Way I See It” is what is printed on the side of Starbuck’s coffee cups, in an effort to be creative, or get people talking, or blatantly promote a large corporate brand as having a smalltown feel, however you see it. It is a series of quotations by both the famous and not-so-famous, and perhaps some infamous, which I find to be thought-provoking. Although I usually have an iced tea, which does not feature such great little quotes, I needed some serious espresso to get through my day due to some late night Halloween partying and festivities. I found this particular quote to be both funny, and disheartening, as the American school system continues to fail its own population and its own children. Though I could digress on how I feel about standardized testing and the ridiculousness of how little our teachers are paid, how few resources they have available to them, and how ineffective Leave-No-Child-Behind is, it is also not entirely our school’s, nor our government’s fault. The parents should be held accountable as well. Children sent to school with absentee parents are sent into the jungle with machetes. My mother gave me the gift of her time and her friendship, which grew into a love of reading. I skipped merrily, while many children do not. The United States is 55th on the list of literacy rates, with a score of 99%. The are 20 countries in the world who’s literacy rate is 99.9%, including the UK, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and Japan. The solution – reach out and read. It doesn’t take long to sit down and read with a child, and the mere 30 minutes that it takes expands their horizon infinately.