Reading between the lines of the taxi driver's life

October 18, 1998|By Thelma Alpert Blumberg

THE TAXI we ordered upon leaving the doctor's office arrived in due time, driven by a young man in his 30s. After a brief conversation, the driver said to my husband, "you must be a teacher." "Yes," my husband replied, "I'm a history professor, but how did you know that?"

"When you answered a question just now, you said 'correct.' Only teachers use that exact word when responding to questions," the driver said.

He went on to tell us how he enjoyed observing people. Almost immediately, I was impressed with his excellent vocabulary and apparently high intelligence.

Next, he looked back at me and said, "and you, Miss, are you a teacher, too?" "No," I said, "I'm a school psychologist with the city schools." He said, "I have some simple solutions for children who have reading problems."

Expert advice

"For one thing, they need to be tutored one-on-one. Next, the use of 'talking books' would fill in the gaps with general knowledge, which all these kids miss, not being readers."

I was flabbergasted at his remarks, which came during a week that The Sun was featuring a series of articles about problems with special education in the city schools.

Our genial driver then went on to explain his personal educational history. For years, he had struggled to learn to read without success, resulting in poor classroom behavior.

As he grew into adulthood, he became curious about what he might be missing in books, and he began to explore audio recordings of books. Through the Baltimore County library system, he has exposed himself to many of the classics as well as modern literature. He said he enjoyed Dickens but found Shakespeare difficult to understand. As he spoke, he proudly held up some of his audio books.

It was painful to discover that this very bright man had a reading problem and that as a young student he had felt like a "dummy". The impediments to learning to read for a student of average to above-average potential can be complex and often vary from child to child.

Reading problems

Some of the factors may include challenging and unique learning styles, or detrimental environmental circumstances, or a combination of both. Sometimes just a simple failure to build confidence in kindergarten and first grade can play a large role.

Nevertheless, the enthusiasm and sincerity with which this young man spoke of his "hobby" were moving and unforgettable. I told him as we left the cab that I would quote him. "That's nice" he responded, "nobody has ever quoted me before."

Thelma Alpert Blumberg is a Baltimore City Public Schools psychologist.

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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