Art is time travel, no question. I didn’t know I still carried this monster around – but here it is. I learned how to read pretty early, before school, scanning my grandfather’s newspaper and imitating the strange throat clearing sounds he produced every now and then while reading. It was quite literally his newspaper, he was a co-publisher of some small town daily newspaper, back in the days when they were still independent.
Anyhow, reading and drawing quickly grew into something alike to breathing and running around for me. Imagine my bewilderment when in first grade I discovered that someone had torn all the words apart and stuck them into a strange primer expecting me to study each one of them separately. I decided not wanting to have anything to do with it and skipped to the end of the book where most letters founds themselves tidily arranged back to sensible words and stories.
I was quickly found out though by our teacher who then consulted with my mother, complaining about my absolute messy reading habits (being able to read but not to practice sound exercises with random letter-combinations). The following week she caught me with a book under the table again – and I still refused to fill out the worksheet according to the primer. We were at war. She took away my book and I kept busy studying the colophon in the reading primer.
Before you give me credit for my precocious rebellious behavior I have to admit that I plain did not understand what was expected of me, and for some reason the teacher had such a vague personality that I found it incredibly hard to focus my attention on that pale, almost transparent if upset presence who did not stop elaborating on how I was not supposed to read what I hadn’t been taught to read. It seemed to me that I could see the squiggles on the chalkboard behind her – through her. I could literally look right through her. It was a mess.
At home my mother followed up on my homework assignments and had me fill the lines of my notebook with squiggles and squabs. It was monstrous, it really was. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing and why. My mother meticulously instructed me how to fill a page with doodles, then she left me to it. When she left the room I took out a book and read instead. There were tears that night.
I don’t know what would have happened had we not moved to a new suburb. I got a new teacher who very nice about my keeping a book under the table and even encouraged me to put it on the table instead. While in the first school my teacher had insisted on my using the phonetic approach which was still brand new back then to acquire a skill I already possessed, in my new school I was allowed to spell with the whole word sight system which happened to be the way my reading comprehension just happened to work anyways.
Later I did learn to take the words apart, by the way. Today I am the master of the monstrous spelling mechanism. I wonder if the second elementary school teacher ever knew that she was a life saver. Thank you, Frau Bock.