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The Smartest Guy In the World

This is an article from the August 15, 2012 Daily Republic.

When I was growing up, I thought my father was the smartest person in the world.

He could riff on the missions of Father Serra, relate the gossipy backstory of Lyndon Johnson and lay out the physics of a submarine’s torpedo. I remember most of these lectures, and lectures they were, from our family vacations, six of us in the station wagon, tent-camping across the U.S. But the little-known-fact soliloquies could occur almost any time, on the way home from church, during a commercial on TV and, worst-case scenario, when he was helping me with my homework.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I discovered the source of his genius, and it happened when I started to read the same magazines he did.

He would start one of his famous lectures, say, for example, about Native American canoe design or Chinese restaurants in New York City, and I would think, “Wait a minute, this sounds awfully familiar.” I realized then that my father was merely parroting an article from one of the weekly magazines he, and now I, devoured. His talent, I came to appreciate, was for total recall and an air of absolute certainty, but the source of his “genius” was now mine too.

If you are reading this, chances are you developed an appetite for reading and learning, even if it wasn’t in the shadow of Lecture Dad. But what if you couldn’t read? What if all you could learn was from watching and listening?

Reading, even as we move from paper to “the cloud” is still the fastest track for learning. Even as more of our time is spent gaming, texting, watching movies and participating in on-demand everything, we still need to read. In fact, reading is imperative.

Educators, business leaders and social service professionals are all concerned about reading in Solano County. Consider these statistics:

  • 40,000 Solano residents are considered low-literate adults.
  • More than one-third of U.S. children enter kindergarten without the basic language skills they’ll need to learn to read (i.e. knowing the words on a page move from left to right, or recognizing the letters of the alphabet).

Not surprisingly, these statistics are related. Adults with low literacy cannot share books and reading with their children, which leads to lagging language skills and slower literacy development. The consequences of a slow start in reading become monumental as they accumulate exponentially over time. Three-quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school. And the cycle continues.

Solano County Library can help. Library branches hold thousands of children’s books, offer dozens of weekly storytimes, and provide homework help — in person and online. With a free library card, parents who want a better life for their children, a reading life, can give that to them. And they do, we see it every day.

Library literacy tutors volunteer their time to help motivated adults break the cycle of illiteracy. Their goals are achievable: read a bank statement, a prescription bottle, a children’s book to their kids. Currently the Library’s literacy program has 191 volunteers, 111 of whom are tutors who work with small groups or one-on-one with learners.

However, there is still a waiting list of almost a hundred adults waiting to learn to read better. If you are over 18 and can make a six-month commitment to teach someone to read, to change a life through reading, you are needed. Orientations and trainings begin in September. To get started call 784-1526 or visit, under “Programs” and click on “Literacy.” I thought my dad was the smartest guy in the world, the children of literacy students should think that about their parents too.

Ann Miller is the community relations coordinator for Solano County Library. She recommends “Mennonite in the Little Black Dress” by Rhoda Janzen, a laugh-out-loud, cringingly honest memoir about growing up smart, simple and a little screwed up.

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