“I was the youngest of three brothers. And in the first grade, my dad used to beat me. He used to beat me because he liked beating me. He didn’t need a reason to beat me. We’d be sitting at the kitchen table and he’d reach across the table and slap me in the face. He was an extraordinarily cruel man and he used to beat me for no reason. Generally, when my Dad beat me he beat me in the living room or the kitchen and I could just run away and go hide until he fell asleep. But when I did something wrong or made a mistake, I used to get what my brothers and I called a bathroom beating. A bathroom beating went like this: my father would take me, drag me into the bathroom, close the door behind us, lock the door, and then beat me until he got tired of beating me. And in a bathroom beating you couldn’t get away. You ran in the closet, he was there. You ran behind the toilet, he was there. You jumped in the shower, he was there. That was a bathroom beating when you did something wrong.
“In the first grade, I couldn’t read. I just couldn’t read. And I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t read. The way they used to teach reading in my school system when I was a kid, is Mrs. Donovan, the reading specialist from the district would come every other Thursday and she’d take all the kids in the first grade who couldn’t read and bring them to the front of the class and make them read out loud in front of the other kids. That was so embarrassing and humiliating for me that every other Thursday before Mrs. Donovan arrived I’d go into the boys’ room and take my reading glasses and twist them until they broke, or break one of the lenses, or pop one of the lenses out. Then when Mrs. Donovan would come I’d go up to her with the broken glasses and say, ‘Mrs. Donovan, my glasses are broken. I can’t read today.’ And I did that every other Thursday for a year with the full knowledge that when I got home I was going to get a bathroom beating for it; when I showed my father the broken glasses, that I was going to get a beating.”
The saddest part of that story is, I’ll bet you anything, if you look at that child’s file, some where Mrs. Donovan probably wrote that this kid is not motivated. You don’t break your glasses every other Thursday for a year unless you’re doing it on purpose. She must have known he was doing it on purpose and interpreted that the child was not motivated, which is so sad. That child was probably the most motivated child Mrs. Donavan will ever, ever have. His motivation was to avoid the humiliation. Imagine if she could have taken that motivation and injected that into his desire to learn to read. He was an extraordinarily motivated child.
I own a little 1972 Karmann Ghia. It’s my pride and joy. I love that little car. It’s very, very special to me. My wife bought it on our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It was manufactured the year we were married and I love that car. But if you told me in order to keep that car I’d have to take a beating twice a month I’d say, “Well, keep the car. It doesn’t mean that much to me.” I’m not that motivated to keep the car. This little boy was so motivated to avoid being embarrassed that he was willing to take a beating from a grown man twice a month. We need to understand the incredible impact that an inability to read has on the life span of a child into adulthood.
Justin Trudeau perfectly articulates the value of diversity in childhood, not just in the workforce.