No. 634



The legendary “Dizzy” Dean was a member of the old “Gas House Gang” of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. He was a rookie in 1932 and only spent six full years in the major leagues, but what an impact he had. He predicted in 1934 that he and his brother Paul, who had never pitched a major league game in his life, would win 45 games. Dizzy won 30 and Paul won 19 that year. As a quick sidebar, my mother later worked for Paul Dean in a restaurant he owned in Little Rock called The Purple Cow.
After his playing days, Dizzy would spend some time in the broadcast booth as a radio announcer. Things went along pretty well until the English teachers in the area began to get after him because of his poor grammar and use of the King’s English. They said his language was setting a poor example for their students who, in many cases, idolized him and also wanted to be a major league player. I remember one of his favorite expressions was “He- slud -into second base” and there were countless others, but he was a little before my day.
Well, guess what? The English teachers are still around and they still get after those of us who are lacking in language skills, especially in writing, where it’s right there for everyone to see. You would think as a writer I would do a better job, but I will confess that I am far from perfect. I’m working on it, primarily by hiring an editor, and, thank heavens, I finally learned how to use the spell check. It does not, however, do your thinking. You have to do that. As I said, I’m working on it.
Sometime back, I got a letter from Margaret Leary, a former English teacher with 40 years’ experience, who now proofreads for the Oconee Enterprise newspaper, published in Watkinsville, Georgia. Right off the bat Margaret says, “I mean no disrespect, but there are often errors of various types in your column. I have enjoyed reading your concern about the declining literacy rates in this country, and I realize that you are a motivational speaker rather than a professional writer, but I hope you realize that when you assume the mantle of a worthy cause you must be above reproach yourself.”
The fact that Margaret wrote and chastised me is not the reason I am sharing this with you. In her letter she goes on to make some very valid points that all of us need to stop and think about. She further states, and I agree, that the nation’s literacy problem is indeed a serious one, worsening every day. Margaret then asks the question, “What can be done to fight these ever-increasing literacy problems? I applaud and support the ‘bookcase’ solution you proposed some columns back. I remember the orange crates we used years ago, sometimes hung with a cloth to make them seem more respectable, yet which always symbolized the pride of ownership, no matter how tatty the books. Going to a bookstore to buy a book was always a wonderful treat for me – but then my father made it so by emphasizing it as a special occasion.”
Now, here is where I got the title for this column. Margaret continues, “Literacy originates in the home, usually with the mother, who is her children’s first teacher. So if young women aren’t educated, neither will their children be. If the television acts as an electronic babysitter, providing instant ‘entertainment’ and strong reinforcement – usually of the ‘violent action’ type – children will learn that reading is boring and takes too much time to master. If the father doesn’t have time – even as his children are going to bed – to read them a story or two, the children’s knowledge slips a few more notches.”
At this point, I can only say I hope this former English teacher is getting through to you. She sure is reaching me. Margaret further states, “Literacy also encompasses verbal skills, but if one watches television to try to learn more about current affairs, one sees guests on opposing sides yelling to overcome their opponents – to the detriment of both points of view. Even presidential candidates no longer debate. It is not necessary, when reasoned argument, literacy comprehension and verbal literacy is not practiced, often not recognized, and, certainly, seldom appreciated.”
To be sure, here is a lady who feels deeply about our nation’s literacy problems. I agree that it won’t get any better until those of us who are literate get serious about reading to our children and grandchildren, turning off the television, and putting academics back in first place where they belong. The real question has become: Do we, the American people, have the will to make literacy, reading and education a top priority again? I hope so, for the sake of future generations.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book: “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)