Look. Look. Jump. Jump.

April 5, 2016

Dick and Jane reader

Dick and Jane reader

I am a child of the 1950s and I learned how to read with the Dick and Jane books.  I love how Billy Collins looks back on this time in childhood.  And how he hints at the shadow side of schooling, how it habituates us to perhaps standardized responses and crushes our innocent, individual ways of being in the world.  How gradually we forget our true selves, our true ways of seeing the world.

First Reader
by Billy Collins

I can see them standing politely on the wide pages
that I was still learning to turn,
Jane in a blue jumper, Dick with his crayon-brown hair,
playing with a ball or exploring the cosmos
of the backyard, unaware they are the first characters,
the boy and girl who begin fiction.

Beyond the simple illustration of their neighborhood
the other protagonists were waiting in a huddle:
frightening Heathcliff’, frightened Pip, Nick Adams
carrying a fishing rod, Emma Bovary riding into Rouen.

But I would read about the perfect boy and his sister
even before I would read about Adam and Eve, garden and gate,
and before I heard the name Gutenberg, the type
of their simple talk was moving into my focusing eyes.

It was always Saturday and he and she
were always pointing at something and shouting “Look!”
pointing at the dog, the bicycle, or at their father
as he pushed a hand mower over the lawn,
waving at aproned Mother framed in the kitchen doorway,
pointing toward the sky, pointing at each other.

They wanted us to look but we had looked already
and seen the shaded lawn, the wagon, the postman.
We had seen the dog, walked, watered, and fed the animal,
and now it was time to discover the infinite, clicking
permutations of the alphabet’s small and capital letters.
Alphabetical ourselves in the rows of classroom desks,
we were forgetting how to look, learning how to read.




4 Responses to “Look. Look. Jump. Jump.”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    But can’t we turn it around one more turn, and say: we have forgotten how to look, how to see the world surrounding us? I know so many so-called book bloggers (and others, of course) who do nothing but read, and use that reading to escape the world, to avoid seeing.

    I grew up with Dick and Jane, too, and enjoyed them,even though I was reading before I started kindergarten. But I well remember how my teachers were able to combine “looking” and “reading,” and speaking for myself, I profited mightily.

  2. Brenda Says:

    Yes exactly.I was reading at 4, and started school in the first grade, no kindergarten.
    In my drawing class we are learning how to see.
    Sometimes it’s hard.

  3. Adrienne Says:

    love, love love Billy Collins’ works.

  4. Anne Timlick Says:

    What a find! and ever so true.
    Learning to read, we were forgetting how to look

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