Worldly knowledge, dyslexia, J— and L— B., and Cliff Clavin

Katharine mentioned earlier that we’ve been thinking about worldly knowledge and dreamy children.

The idea that there exists a category of knowledge (worldly knowledge?) that’s important to success on ACT/SAT reading but can’t be acquired through a rich, knowledge-based curriculum had never crossed my mind.

That said, our conversations reminded me of a story a friend told me some years back.

His wife, he said, was profoundly dyslexic. She was so dyslexic that she read nothing at all–at least, nothing beyond what she absolutely had to read for work. She’d gone to college, and had been able to get through her textbooks, but reading had never become anything more than a chore, and she never, ever read “for pleasure.”

The result, he said, was that she “didn’t know anything.”

Meaning: she didn’t know anything anyone talked about at parties or over dinner. She didn’t get the references.

My own head is so stuffed full of useless knowledge (I have a soft spot for Cliff Clavin, kindred soul), that I had trouble even imagining what my friend was talking about. So I kept asking for examples.

Finally he said his wife had never heard of J— and L—– B—–.1

Now that got my attention. At the time, the entire world was talking about J&L-B–literally the entire world, if you believe Wikipedia, which I do–yet my friend’s wife did not know who they were.

She didn’t know because she didn’t read—-anything. No newspapers, no women’s magazines (which still existed then). If she was standing in the check-out lane at the supermarket, she didn’t pick up the Enquirer and speed-read the stories so she wouldn’t have to pay for it; she didn’t even scan the headlines. She didn’t read.

“Doesn’t she watch TV?” I said. “Doesn’t she hear these things on TV?”

She did watch TV, my friend said, as much as anyone else watches TV, but she still didn’t know anything. It was amazing how little information a person actually picks up from TV.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

Do we really absorb next to nothing from casual television watching?

Compared to casual National Enquirer skimming at the grocery store?

And if so, would that have changed with the advent of multiple cable news channels and “infotainment”?

Here’s my question: is there a kind of “junk reading” that we think of as a waste of time but that actually serves a purpose — and might come in handy on college entrance exams to boot?

1. I’m using initials instead of names because there’s no reason these two need to see themselves on our blog or anyone else’s. I know next to nothing about the “right to be forgotten,” but I’m probably in favor. So: initials.

2 thoughts on “Worldly knowledge, dyslexia, J— and L— B., and Cliff Clavin

  1. I grew up in a good school district, but I watched a lot of television. Much of it was science and nature documentaries on PBS and Discovery, as well as a lot of political programming like McNeil/Lehrer and the Sunday morning talk shows. I was the kind of political junkie that would make sure to catch Prime Minister’s Question Time on CSPAN. And I have often said that I got a huge amount of my knowledge from TV.

    But, back then, those documentaries actually had content: not anymore. There was one made a couple of years ago that kept summarizing the key points, of which there were 3-4 in an hour. That was it for the content of the show. Everything else was dramatic music and beautiful, but meaningless, visuals. That’s how bad those shows have gotten. We’ve gone from the wonderful “Connections” with James Burke, during which you would actually learn something, to meaningless flash.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. boy, I did not watch a lot of informational programming ….

    (hah!)

    that said, you wouldn’t have found out about the B’s from PBS or Discovery ….

    seems like there’s some kind of pop-culture knowledge that matters to college admissions tests

    I’m going to have to start keeping my eyes open for it

    Like

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