Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, June 5, 1959
June 5, 2009 | 2:00 pm
We're not used to seeing issues like this in the "legacy" version of "Peanuts." The strip had much more of an edge in its early days.
Reading Big Words Was Miracle to MikeThirty-three days ago Mike's miracle began.
Around dusk, he was walking home past San Bernardino's St. Anne School when he met two friends. They were headed into the school to set up some chairs in a lecture room, and although Mike didn't attend there, he decided to help them.
And he met Sister Mary Caroline. She came into the room where they were working, carrying some cards with words on them. She mentioned to the three boys that her first-grade pupils were going to give a demonstration at her lecture: reading by phonetic analysis.
That's when Mike joined the conversation. "C'mon," he said, "no first-graders can read those big words."
In the next few minutes, Sister Mary Caroline learned a lot about Mike. He was 16, in junior high school. But he didn't have the faintest idea how to read.
"Maybe 15, 20 words," he told the Sister. "Mostly two-letter ones."
The other boys laughed, but it wasn't funny. Mike couldn't read. His background was a jumble of report card "F's," fruitless private tutoring and special counseling, useless expensive remedial reading phonograph courses and futile attempts by our public school to teach him the bare fundamentals of the subject.
Sister Mary Caroline has a technique of her own for teaching students how to read. It's not a popular technique now, but she's very proud of it, and its results.
By shifting the emphasis from sightword, or memory reading, to phonetic analysis, and by adding a few techniques of her own which enable a student to understand what he's doing, she has been amazing educators and parents alike with her results.
Yesterday I talked to Mike about what's been happening since he met Sister Mary Caroline.
"When I was in there that night," he started, "she showed me a sentence that said, "Sandy ran down the street." I knew the words 'down' and 'the,' so she started talking to me about the other words I didn't know.
"She showed me some cards and had the other two guys hold them up, and the way she put it about reading -- by sound -- was a lot different than I'd ever heard it before. A word -- well, it says what it says."
Before Mike left the school that night he and Sister Mary Caroline "both kind of asked each other" to get together again. For the past month he's been stopping by three or four times a week for an hour's personal tutoring.
He told his regular remedial reading teacher nothing about his extra instruction. "But one day a couple weeks ago, I went and read to her and she was so surprised that she had me go from class to class," he told me. "Naturally, then, I let her know.
"I just finished a book with 250 different words in it," he added. "Now there's a lot of words I can figure out that are pretty long -- playhouse, children, something -- words like that."
Mike brought a third-grade reader to my office with him. He read from it. At one point the word "game" stopped him.
"I used to just guess," he said, "but now I know how to analyze it. What does it start with? 'G' like go. What are the vowels in it? 'A' and 'e.' E's on the back door knocking, so you can't hear it, so the 'a' is long. The 'm' --mmm. Game.
The kid looked up and smiled. "There's a couple other guys in my class who are real interested in how I'm learning. Maybe next year, if I can read good enough, I'll teach them how to read, too."
Young Old Hermit Retires
After Mike left, I talked a few minutes with his mother.
"You know," she told me, "a month ago, my boy's big ambition was to be a hermit. 'An old hermit,' he called it. He said he was going to dig a cave and stay there.
"Now," she added, "he wants to be a rocket engineer."
The miracle of Mike could be just beginning.