Home Schooling. Excerpt from my novel, Fatherhoodlum: Chronicles of a Prison Dad. Michael B. Jackson
1981 Trenton, New Jersey
Part of LJ’s remedial reading plan was tutoring. He would have a reading tutor. I figured I could do the job as well as anyone. Our first session went something like this:
I pointed to a word on the work sheet, and asked, “What’s this word?”
He was like, “Ummmmm.”
I said, “The word starts with an Arrrrrr. What is the Arrrrrr sound?
He was like, “Arrrrrr?”
I said, “No, Arrrrrr is the name of the first letter in the word. How does Arrrrrr sound when you say an Arrrrrr?”
He said, “It sounds like Arrrrrr, when I say Arrrrrr.”
Then I said, “What I meant was, how does it sound in a word?”
He was like, “Uh, Puh?”
I was like, “No, Puh is Pee. What is Arrrrrr?” He got all agitated and was all like, “Arrrrrr.
Arrrrrr is Arrrrrr.”
I was trying not to get all irritated and went,
“No LJ, the Arrrrrr sound is Ruh.”
He went, “Puh.”
I was like, “No, Puh is Pee. This word starts
with an Arrrrrr sound. Can you think of a word that starts with Arrrrrr?”
All proud and everything he said, “Orange.”
(Even I had to take a pause to laugh at that one.)
I said, “’Orange starts with an ‘Oh’.”
He said, “That would be OH-ringe.”
I said, “Okay, forget the Oh. This is an
(I was pointing to a letter ‘R’ that I had drawn on a piece of paper.)
Then I said, “This is also an Arrrrrr.”
(I pointed to the first letter of the word on the work sheet.)
Then I said, “Okay, look at the word. The word is ‘Read’. R-E-A-D. The word ‘read’ starts with an Arrrrrr.”
He said, “I thought you said Arrrrrr words start with Oh, like Orange?”
Finally I said, “No, son. Arrrrrr is not Oh is Oh, except in Orange... Never mind, go watch television.”
He said, “Okay.”
It was clear that I was not the best tutor for my own son. I had lost control in the first session. I was a terrible tutor, and I knew it. I was too impatient, and I had horrible technique. I was confusing him so badly he couldn't think straight. We needed to call in someone who knew what they were doing. On the recommendation of his school, we found a retired teacher who lived within walking distance. Mrs. Bristol was LJ's reading tutor for two years before she became ill and died. She liked LJ, and he liked her. In those two years, LJ's reading level went up almost three grades. She was a great educator and a great person.
I encouraged LJ to become involved in extracurricular school programs and activities. I limited his television time during the week to two hours a day, after homework and chores. There was a 90 minute, minimum study period, seven days a week, whether the teacher gave homework or not. The time would be spent reading, or constructing model airplanes and cars, which required reading and following instructions. He learned to do crossword puzzles and liked comic books. The deal was that he would get his education, and I would take care of everything else. It is important to have fun along the way, but get that education. Once he had achieved that goal he could do whatever he wanted for the rest of his life.
High school to college was the norm I put into his mind from the start. High school to college would be a nonnegotiable, natural progression in his life. He had the heart to stick it out and worked hard to improve himself.
LJ was in the 4th grade when he came to Trenton. He was classified as a ‘non-reader’. They defined a ’non-reader’ as someone who cannot, or does not read; especially a child who takes a long time learning to read.
The child-study team, which was following his progress, couldn't believe his rapid improvement. There never was any doubt in my mind of what LJ was capable of doing. However, even I was a bit awed by what he was able to do in such a short time. He just kept achieving from there. I involved myself in all aspects of LJ’s education. I made regular visits to talk to his teachers, and I joined the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) at the school. My first year in PTA they awarded me “Parent of the Year”. I was especially proud of that.