Is that even a real word outside of my world?  Don’t know, don’t care.  So for those of you interested parties – Bibliophil-itis means Book Lover or Reader’s Disease.  I’m infected. Gloriously infected. And hopefully, contagious. I’ve loved books – and reading, since early childhood.   ” Reada me ‘nocchio, Mama” (read me Pinocchio) was the staple chorus at bedtime for me.  I taught myself to read by the age of 4 – and even earlier could always tell when someone tried to cut corners while reading a familiar story. I imagine we all could do that with our beloved bedtime tales.  Bit by the reading bug – you betcha. And I quickly became a speed reader on top of it.  As a teenager I read ‘Jaws” in about 3 hours.  Books were the gift of choice to me at Christmas; but my family soon learned not to give them to me first – or I would literally not open my other presents once I opened the book.  I have bibliophil-itis in the worst best way

I was in a discussion on Facebook today- I had posted a link to a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby – which led to the following –  ( rather than paraphrase I figured I’d save time and copy/paste) I have erudite, intelligent friends – just so you know – several of whom are wonderful  educators.  Here is the transcript:

  • Friend 1:  I still have mental twitches from having to read “The Great Gatsby” in school — I have been thinking, after lo, these many years, I might have to overcome this and try reading it again…
    Friend 2: Friend 1, you just hit on something that is one of my pet peeves. We force kids to read novels the content of which really is just over their heads, and it turns so many off of reading. They are capable of decoding the words and maybe even grasping the general concepts, but they are not mentally or emotionally ready to absorb the true message. I probably didn’t say that as well as I could, but I’m super tired and just took cough syrup.
  • Friend 1: no, I think you got it exactly right — my son was assigned to read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” over the summer as a HS freshman, and that is not a book that a 14-year-old boy has an interest in, he hated it; I remember also detesting Steinbeck and Hemingway, who were the “in” authors of so-called classics at that time. Luckily I did a lot of extracurricular reading, so I wasn’t turned off to reading as such, but many kids don’t come from families that read a great deal, and that would make a difference. Sorry to be so long-winded, but I could discuss this for hours..
  • Friend 3 Students do seem to enjoy “Of Mice and Men” by Steinbeck. But now our curriculum is filled with a lot of nonfiction that neither the student nor the teacher enjoy. I think we do need to read nonfiction but all the extended text in my curriculum. I feel as if I am teaching history and not English.
    Donna Hoyt Erickson You guys nailed it! So many people get turned off of reading because of the reasons you stated. Sometimes the message is way over heads. In order to enjoy reading it first has to be an enjoyable story and well, vividly written. I LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird. Read it in middle school, my take away was mostly about the consequences of bullying and finding a friend in unexpected places. Re reading it a few years later, my take was a bit more mature – centered around the (till then not obvious) sexual undertones of rape and incest, social injustice, prejudice, social class, and inequality. I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that we take from any media (medium?) what our developmental stage and maturity level allows us to. We need to train ourselves to interpret written materials and think critically; allow ourselves the gift of exposure to literature we might not quite be ready for. Personally it’s SO MUCH more fun to read for enjoyment and for love of the story than it is when you have to interpret it for a class assignment. The best teachers hopefully key in on the students interests first and help instill a love of reading at the get go. Mine did. Thank you Mrs Chandler! (Son of Mrs Chandler – please give a shout out to your Mom for me – thanks) Then, the dry boring stuff is a little easier to take. I could discuss for hours too, but you guys already knew that. .
    Friend 1: funny you should mention that, my son and I were discussing this and he said “To Kill a Mockingbird” was a favorite of his for required reading — embarassingly, I’ve never read it (hides head in shame). One of the things we discussed was the possibility of broadening the choices available — students certainly must be introduced to a variety of reading materials, just like everything in life — or they will not know what’s “out there”, or be able to extract meaning from writing — but the curricula must take into account the age and personal tastes of the students. There are plenty of well-written and thought provoking books in the sci-fi field, for instance, and since both I and my son are SF aficionados  we naturally read more of that than anything else. and Donna makes a fine point that you take out of a book what you are able to depending on your age and maturity level… Friend 3, do you think the English curriculum contains nonfiction at the expense of fiction?  so difficult to marshal my thoughts coherently when I have so much I want to say!
    Friend 3: Yes I do. I believe students should be exposed to nonfiction but to have an entire curriculum dominated by nonfiction is over the top. Instead of teaching English I end up teaching social studies and science. It would be more beneficial for students to read those texts and discuss them with the social studies and science teacher. We do get to teach a little writing and very little grammar. But as for reading literary books whatever the genre-not happening. I am adding in an independent read right now to open the door to students individual taste in literature. Much more engaging for them.
    Donna Hoyt Erickson Independent Study is a great work around! This discussion has inspired a blog post (forthcoming) Thank you ladies!
        I honestly do feel that in order to learn from reading anything the first step to infection with the virus is to read what is enjoyable to you – so the process of reading is positively reinforcing in and of itself.  You cannot become a bibliophile if this step is skipped. I witnessed this firsthand with my daughter’s former boyfriend.  No interest in reading whatsoever.  He was never encouraged to read about what he enjoyed – only told what he had to read.  He hates to read, unsurprisingly.   That always made me sad.  I prefer reading to watching TV or movies actually.  Love the places my mind can take me.  As an awkward, physically uncoordinated person, books were my sanctuary in my younger years.  They still provide a happy place for me.
        I did find the discussion about the English curriculum disturbing. Nonfiction reading has a place in English classes – but not to the exclusion of other genres of literature.  The human mind is at its best when it IMAGINES.  Dry as dirt rehashing of what-has-been does little to stimulate a love of reading – or dare I say – even a love of learning if the learner has no interest in the material.  I doubt we are doing students any favors by “browbeating” them with nonfiction they have no interest in.  As adults, they will then not likely have much love for literature in any form – having been so adversely conditioned in school. And what of the teachers?  How much enthusiasm can they be expected to generate over material they don’t enjoy?  Students learn best when the teacher is energized and enthusiastic about the material being presented.  An entire generation with no love for the written word, inoculated against the virus.  I’m so saddened.
         I do love non-fiction and find myself reading more and more of it as I get older.  With this caveat:  Only about subjects I have an established interest in.  The Tudor period. The Renaissance. Sea Stories. Mountaineering.  World War 2.  Aviation. Prohibition, The Mafia, and Forensics/True Crime. (to name a few)
         Not to say that we shouldn’t cultivate a well rounded cache of reading material which we can discuss.   We absolutely need to be able to  think critically and communicate effectively. We can’t do either of those things unless we are infected enough with the virus to enjoy reading.  The enjoyment of the process gets us through the dusty musty stuff and forward to the next level.  I admit I approach all of my reading concretely.  What happens in the story is my first concern. And if it ain’t interestin- I ain’t continuin to read it.  My infection leads me next to ask why I find the material interesting. Why does it resonate with me?  Post traumatic stress disorder prevents me from traveling down the theme interpretation path too far; but there are in fact themes that resonate with me. My core values would be a good way to put it, I guess.  Love, Friendship, Family, Overcoming Hardships, Perseverance, Actions of Integrity in Adversity, Honor, Loyalty.  BUT whatever I read has to be well written or it’s gonna get tossed.
         Which brings me to a discussion about authors.  I’ve found that my preferences for writers are not so much about how they write (they wouldn’t be published if they sucked at writing, now would they?) – but rather what they write about.  If you’re not a fan of the horror genre you may not like Stephen King, or Dean Koontz. If you are then you probably like at least one of them.  Frank Herbert may be too cerebral a writer for you even if you are a sci-fi fan. To each his own – and we all develop during the course of the disease in us, an affinity for a particular author’s style within a particular genre. Virus mutations, for lack of a better term. Although it’s perhaps the perfect term to use given the title of this post – Hahaha!
         Sadly but unsurprisingly, the US is not a frontrunner in terms of literacy and education – although it should be. (we have the resources, and the personnel – just not the values)   Why can we not address critical thinking skills by allowing students access to literature that reflects a theme but not curtailing them by only allowing them to read one book. Multiple choices. We need to rethink our teaching curriculums to reflect a new mission statement.   To instill in learners –  at whatever age, – a lifelong love of learning and investigation. To help learners want to learn.This is the true virus that needs to infect us all. Bibliophil-itis. The process starts with gladly opening a book.
    Related Material:

Please Explain: What is a Cheerio doing in my Sugar Pops?

This quote is a funny family story about a family friend having breakfast with us while we were on vacation and finding a different brand of cereal floating in the milk amongst his preferred brand. He asked my mother to explain why, much to the amusement of all of us. OK – maybe you had to be there to get the full comedic effect; but trust me – it was hilarious at the time.

Let me now make the connections to today’s post. We had a snow day today here in the northeast, and my fingers and brain have been itching to get back to my writing. I decided to catch up with some of my blogger friends and came across this gem : Les Miserables and Social Injustice which I highly recommend you read. BTG and I don’t always see eye to eye but we provide and promote a climate that encourages thought, especially thought outside the usual boxes. Love that about him, and many of my other friends in the blogger-verse. As usual, his post got me thinking.

Just yesterday I was at lunch and talking with a co-worker/friend about current events, social issues etc. He comes from a very liberal background, but also has a great deal of common sense which we agreed is in short supply these days. He told me a story about leaving a previous social service job, and why. He used to work for an agency that provided advocacy, outreach, and support to families in crisis. Families would contact the agency with a variety of serious issues ranging from eviction, property theft or damage, home heating issues, social service legal issues like CHINS petitions, DCF interventions etc etc. One family contacted the agency because they had no heat and no money to pay for home heating oil. The agency arranged with a supplier to donate 100 gallons of heating oil to the family. Later on in the heating season, the family, perhaps trying to economise – had to relocate because their pipes froze and the residence was uninhabitable. The agency set them up with a hotel and got pro bono volunteers to clean up the flood and mess, and repair the dwelling. At the staff meeting, my friend brought up his concerns about arranging for the children to get back and forth to their school (they had to relocate to a hotel some distance from their neighborhood), and about reestablishing their routines as quickly as possible. To my friend, this meant arranging with a taxi service to get the family to and from school etc. It also meant perhaps trying to arrange for the family to meet with a financial planner/social worker who could help them create a budget to meet their needs. He was shot down, because what the rest of the team wanted to discuss was getting the mother a washing machine. (?!?) The agency had spent a lot of money and man hours helping the family and other families in similar situations. Another family had their property stolen (TV, air conditioner and the like) My friend brought up the idea of providing all the families with renters insurance. Its relatively cheap – like maybe 150 a year, and would certainly cost less than having to continually pay for replacements. Property theft is a huge issue for folks living in poverty. That idea too was shot down.

I daresay he felt like that cheerio swimming in the bowl with a bunch of sugar pops. The lone grain that’s completely good for you; and yet completely outnumbered by sugary sweet, completely non-nutritious “fluff” that tastes better – but has little health benefit when consumed. Now I’m sure that the folks working at that agency were well-meaning with big hearts. However, it was clear to my friend – and subsequently to me via his tale, that they were not able to, or actually could not, identify the pressing issues that would empower these families to regain control of their lives – rather than merely enabling them. In other words – no common sense. The sugar pops won the day, my cheerio friend quickly realized he was swimming in the wrong cereal bowl, and left his position forthwith. (See, I did relate my material to the title after all!)

One of my biggest peeves is this lack of common sense when it comes to allocating our time, talents, and treasure in terms of social activism, grassroots volunteerism, and implementation of social programs . Believe me when I say that I totally get the gray miserable-ness of poverty life. I understand how people want some happiness and how in the process of reaching for that, unplanned pregnancies may occur. Which is why I am totally for making viable birth control available cheaply to all. We’re human, and better penny wise than pound foolish. It costs less to provide a young lady a pill, or a young man a condom, than it does to support a single parent family on taxpayer dollars.

Now, I’m not poor. Both my husband and I are employed (Thank God!) – but we are living paycheck to paycheck just like millions of other middle class Americans and I know first hand how incredibly difficult it is to find any joy in life when all you are able to do is try and figure out how to get all your bills paid and make your earnings stretch as far as possible. Its horribly depressing to struggle with financial issues. To have to make the choice to pay bills rather than buy your kids Christmas presents. But guess what? That’s what we did. As responsible adults we have an obligation to provide the essentials for our families. If there’s no money left over after that, then that’s just too bad. There, I said it. We are only guaranteed the right to PURSUE happiness, we are not guaranteed happiness itself. So, I put my big girl panties on and I’m dealing with it.

Anyway, I believe – in my practical mind – that social assistance is supposed to help provide the essentials to struggling individuals and families. The essentials is the key concept here. The cheerios, if you will – NOT the sugar pops. And,we must keep in mind at all times that if we don’t hold people accountable then it becomes our responsibility as well when the system gets abused and our generosity gets taken advantage of. The current state of the welfare system has little direct oversight. We’ve managed to automate much of the processes and procedures. For example, when I was briefly on unemployment in the mid-eighties I had to actually report to a person in the unemployment office and provide them documentation of my job search efforts in order to receive my benefit check. I had to actually go to this office once a week. No phone calls, no computers. Face to face with the caseworker. These days its a matter of logging in on a computer and typing in whatever information you feel like. On the surface, this makes sense and would appear to save money. However, it’s hard to lie to someone’s face. Much easier to be less than truthful on an impersonal website. Now I’m not saying everyone is lying – I’m only saying that the system makes it easier to do so – and there are individuals who will lie to get what they want (human nature being what it is and all).

EBT cards are another example of a well meaning procedure/process/benefit that is incredibly easy to abuse. I’ve seen it firsthand and written about it previously so I won’t bore you with a recap but I can tell you it absolutely FROSTS me to see my hard earned tax dollars wasted in this fashion. I’m sorry you don’t have enough of your own money to get that lap-dance buddy, but you CAN’T (shouldn’t) spend your EBT benefits in the strip clubs, or getting a tat, or a manicure, or buying booze, or purchasing non-nutritious food. “Life is not fair”, I tell my girls all the time, so “Get used to it!” Here’s my cheerio (common sense) fix: 1.You should not be able to use your EBT card to get cash. 2. If they can set up EBT cards to reject alcohol and tobacco purchases it is certainly worth the effort to set them up to reject junk food and soda. These are not essentials, they are luxuries. We are not doing anyone any favors by enabling them to purchase non-essentials. And I really don’t want to have to pay more via your medicaid health insurance for your kid to get their cavities filled because you won’t set limits and give them nutritious food instead of those push pops you got for the “buy one get two” special at the Stop and Shop….. Grrrrrr!

No positive or empowering lessons learned – not in any way, shape, or form. We are not assisting anyone in differentiating between “want” and “need”. This is a crucial life lesson that absolutely has to be learned in order for anyone to be successful in life. Looking the other way and allowing the luxuries just because we feel sorry for folks is not actually empowering them at all. My co-worker friend had another great example about this: He was doing a home visit and saw that the family had a rather large HD LED or plasma TV on their wall. He asked about it, and was told that it was rented – paid for with the welfare benefits the family was getting. Here again is a great example of waste – and lack of prioritization. This family had all sorts of legal financial and other problems and yet felt the need to spend taxpayer dollars on the luxury of an HD television. (that was actually costing the taxpayers more than if they had paid for it outright because they were renting it) Sugar Pops. Dumb Sugar Pops.

People need to understand that a welfare check is not actually their money. They need to be accountable for how it is spent. It is a misnomer to refer to this type of benefit as an entitlement. It is not. They didn’t pay into the system, or work for it. They are not “entitled” to it. Veterans are entitled to benefits because of their service to our country. Retirees are entitled to their social security checks because they have paid into the system throughout their working lives. Laid off workers are entitled to unemployment benefits because they have worked. Our society has seen fit to provide charity to those in need. “Assistance Benefits” would be a much better phrase to accurately describe what is being provided. Now if you want to reform the welfare system and require “work for wages” then by all means, feel free to refer to it as an entitlement in that case. We need people working in the system to prioritize using a common sense approach, with a mission statement of “empowerment, not enablement” – and the mindset that goes with that.

But what do I know, I’m a cheerio swimming in a bowl full of sugar pops….

cheeriossugar pops