When did I learn how to read? You know, I really, honestly don’t remember! The only thing I can say is that I don’t remember not being able to read. Not only do I not remember when I learned to read. As an immigrant kid, I don’t remember not being able to speak and understand English either. You see, I was originally a native speaker of Dutch.
My family emigrated to Canada when I was seven, going on eight years old. I was the oldest, just in 2nd grade in my school in the north end of Rotterdam. In November of 1951 my family got on a boat and all seven of us moved to Canada.
Sounds like fun, right? A two-week ocean cruise across the North Atlantic in the middle of November. We encountered storms. We saw icebergs. We finally landed in Hoboken, New Jersey. Then we went by overnight train to Hamilton, Ontario. That is how, in December of that year, I ended up in a Grade One class in Fairfield Public School in Ontario, Canada.
In that class I remember “Fun With Dick and Jane”, and “See Spot Run”! I think that was the extent of my ESL classes. Ah, life was much simpler then!
By January 1952 our family of seven had moved into a small upstairs apartment in my Dad’s employer’s house. That was on a fruit farm in Burlington, Ontario. Oh, did I mention the outdoor plumbing?
As a youngster, I loved to read. I read whatever I could get my hands on. Early on I got a membership to our local Burlington Public Library branch. Every week I took out three books, and most of those I read cover to cover.
Not sure my teachers ever noticed this. In any event, I was oblivious to what my teachers thought. I just went to school, did my homework, and tried not to get caught reading the more interesting books which I would hold in my knees under my desk top during classes. I graduated from Grade Eight second in my class. Judy Scheer was first in my Grade Eight. Yeah, she beat me out. Not sure I really cared about that at the time. I guess my immigrant parents never instilled in me the need to be that competitive.
So, what gave me the motivation to read, to learn, maybe to excel? (I’m not sure that I ever wanted to excel!) I just enjoyed learning! I enjoyed reading. I enjoyed finding out about the wonders of the universe, about how the plot in a novel worked out, about ancient Egyptian pyramids, and about different planets and how they orbited the sun. If my parents and my teachers ever did anything great for me, it was to instill in me the thirst for knowledge and an appreciation for the fascination and beauty of the universe.
Yeah, maybe I was a weird and abnormal child. But I sure enjoyed reading. And writing followed shortly thereafter. The enjoyment, the thrill of it all, the wonder of learning new things, the excitement of strange and unique plot twists kept me going all those years. And they still do today!
So that was why I had a privileged childhood. Somehow my immigrant parents allowed me, and encouraged me, to read. They created an environment in which that predilection for reading, and a search for knowledge, was allowed and encouraged. The school system, at a minimum, tolerated my behaviour. In the end that predilection led me to discovering the wonders of the universe. And today, many decades later, I am still venturing out there, beyond the limits of my current knowledge.
All of this led me eventually to a career in the then nascent IT/computer industry. And I honestly can’t tell you what is yet to come!
Please allow your children to do and have the same! The ability to read is the source of all knowledge!