28 January 2008

Illegible? Says you!

This week's prompt from Weekend Wordsmith (clicky) prompted this essay which is a cross between a rant and an ode... Just a different perspective. Hope I am not too late!

Illegible. I can’t read this. He was only in first grade but these words boldly written in the dreaded red pen of a self-proclaimed “stickler for penmanship” shaped my young son’s opinion of school. “I HATE SCHOOL” he would yell. Daily. How on earth did this happen? He had always loved school.

I suspect that he grew weary of not being good enough. That even his best efforts were shot down as “too sloppy”. He was supposed to have reduced writing, more time – all of these accommodations. The teacher would get defensive if I asked her how she was reducing his writing. She would get angry if I offered ideas to help him concentrate – “I can’t do that in a classroom” – truly – what she should have said was “I am not willing to do that in my classroom”. Ideas I presented were those that had worked in other classrooms for other students.

The fact that she couldn’t, or more accurately WOULDN’T, read my son’s writing told me more about her weaknesses as an educator than it did about my son’s ability to do work. Afterall, if I took a few minutes to look at his paper, I could read it. Maybe it was years of practice reading the horrible penmanship of my aunt. Or maybe it was because I WANTED to know what he had to say. Apparently, his second grade teacher wants to know what he has to say too. He also takes the time to decipher his handwriting. This also tells me something of the caliber of educator he is. I can count on one hand the number of times I had to hear the dreaded “I HATE SCHOOL” this year. For this I am grateful.

So – when I see something marked “Illegible” I know that that is really a subjective term. That the right person with the right motivation or the right skill could almost certainly make out the words of the author. It really is about perspective. A page of even the most carefully scribed Mandarin Chinese would be labeled “Illegible” by an English-speaking audience. Doesn’t definitively make it “Illegible” does it?


Bonnie Jacobs said...

Well said! Hurray!

iFred said...

This strikes a rather funny cord in me. In the company where I spent the last 24 years of my career, I was known as "the interpreter" because I was the only one who could read our CEO's handwriting. This was an incredibly brilliant man with several university degrees, but his handwriting was more of a scrawl than anything else. I don't know why it was so easy for me to read what he wrote except to say that, as an artist, I saw it as a visual challenge. Over the years, I became familiar with what each scrawled mark was meant to be.

Who knows, perhaps your son will wind up being a brilliant, very rich man. Just look at a doctor's scribbling!

On the serious side, I do understand your frustration with teachers. This is why my daughter home schools her kids.