My best friend growing up was the homeschooled son of a fiercely independent hippie farm lady and a chain-smoking amateur historian. While he lived in a house full of books and insightful conversation, no attempt was ever made to teach him to read, and he showed no interest. At age 10, he spent all day in the woods with his dog, making forts and cutting things down. He could bike, swim, and run barefoot over gravel. While I could do none of those things, the scales balanced, I thought, when it came to his alarming ignorance of basic academic skills. Hobbling in his wake as we traversed all things appalling to a city boy, I entertained a vague notion that permanent damage was being done to his mind by neglecting whatever it is that one learns in 5th grade. At some point very soon, I was sure that the world would give him a spelling test (or something) and that would be the end of his prospects.
Far from the utter destitution I had envisioned, my friend now brings down a six-figure salary and reads avidly for his own pleasure. Looking back, this is a predictable outcome. Here’s what I missed at age ten: By setting an example of intellectual curiosity and creating an atmosphere of learning, his folks had imparted something much more valuable than simply how to read: they had taught him to read. Before He learned the mechanics, he had already deeply internalized the lesson.
Conversely, many of the kids with whom I attended Ann Arbor public schools
show every sign of being functionally illiterate adults. They learned how to read in kindergarten and what did it get them?
Here’s a good question to ask: is it possible to grow up in my house and not read as an adult?