July 8, 2010


Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

Even though Mai Li applied her newly invented Teach Young Idiots How To Read In One Hour method to CJ, he wasn’t reading after two hours.

Mai Li stared at him. Shaking her head, she said, “It should have worked. All the research points to the probability of success in this methodology I synthesized. You should be reading at a college level now.” She took his chin in one hand and turned his head hard, tipping his chin down so he was facing the science book sitting on the desk. It was his hardest class – even though it was his favorite – because the teacher talked a lot and didn’t make them read much. “Try it again.”

He tried squinting. He tried opening his eyes as wide as he could…

Mai Li elbowed him and said, “Quit making those weird faces. You look like you’re possessed.”

“I’m trying to understand the words so I can say them.”

“That’s not how you read!” she exclaimed.

“Then how do I do it?” He pointed, “I recognize that that is either ‘was’ or ‘saw’. I’m not sure because I can’t tell what direction I’m reading at the moment.”

“You’re speaking gibberish! What do you mean you ‘can’t tell what direction’ you’re ‘reading at the moment’? You read from left to right!”

From the doorway, Mom said, “You read Hebrew from right to left.”

“And Chinese is top to bottom,” CJ chimed in.

Mai Li looked at CJ first then turned to look at Mom. After a moment, she sighed and said, “You’re both right. Educating is harder than I thought it would be – even for me.”

Mom snorted and said, “I can’t even find a definition that makes sense of what ‘education’ is, let alone figure out whether or not it’s happening in CJ’s school and what I can do to help.”

Mai Li stood and turned angrily, “An education is a complex mix of events, facts, biology, attitude, and culture!” Mom and CJ looked at her like she was insane. She sputtered for a moment. She finally said, “Can’t you see that the timing of events that make particular facts available, and the biological condition of the brain and body to which they are exposed is framed by the attitude of the person who owns all those parts hung from the wall of the attitude of the culture from which they come?”

“What?” CJ said.

She shook her head, took a deep breath then asked, “How old are you?”

“Almost fourteen.”

“All right. What math fact did you learn for the first time this year?”

“We learned to work with the Pythagorean Theorem,” CJ said immediately.

She nodded. “Would you have been able to use it when you were in kindergarten?”

CJ laughed. “No.”

“Why not?”

CJ stared at her then shrugged, saying, “Kindergartners can’t think that way.”

“Yet. That’s the timing and the biology. You learn certain things at certain times because your brain is ready for them.” She lunged forward, grabbing him by the neck. He tried to pull away, but her other hand slapped onto the back of his neck and pulled him close to her face. “Will you work harder at learning this reading method if I do this?” She dug her fingernails into his neck. He struggled briefly and she let go. He staggered backwards. “Well?”


“That’s the ‘personal attitude’ part of the equation. If you don’t want to learn, you won’t.” She looked at Mom, saying, “Is education important?”

Startled, she didn’t hesitate when she said, “Of course.”

She waved at her mother and looked at CJ, “If the culture in which an individual lives doesn’t value learning; if the individual doesn’t value learning; if the brain isn’t mature enough to handle the facts at the right time, then it can’t learn no matter how often you expose it.” She sat down, “Now sit down next to me: you’re old enough, your brain is mature enough, you want to and Mom has always wanted us to learn as much as we can no matter what our brains are…were…” she stopped talking. Staring at CJ she whispered, “…like.”

image: http://jk070.k12.sd.us/read.gif

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