Saturday, July 25, 2015

Reading without Words

“The tire has to come off,” said the bicycle repair man before I’d even properly stopped the bike in front of his shop. He paid no attention to my repeated attempts to explain to him, in less than fluent Japanese, that I’d just had the frame refurbished before shipping it here to Okinawa from Tokyo, and so everything was fine except that the tires needed air and the front brake, which I had completely released in order to put on the front wheel (quick release) that had been removed for the shipping, needed to be adjusted. And he wasn’t even gesturing to that front tire (my first panic—I’d done something betraying my incompetence in simply attaching it). 

Finally he pointed to the English letters printed on the side of the back tire—the arrows next to the words “front” and “back” were pointing the wrong directions. He quickly removed the tire, reversed it, filled the tires with air, fixed the front brake, and told me to take it for a test drive. 

And I was rocked back on my heels, that this guy in a blue jumpsuit with a greasy rag in his back pocket and a fistful of wrenches in his front pocket reads worlds of meaning in details that mean nothing to me. I had no idea that when the tread on a bike tire is in a V-shape, the V is supposed to point forward. 

What else don’t I know? What worlds of significance am I missing in the shape of a cloud, a bird song, the way that student slumps in his seatt, that engine noise…?

I hope to teach my students this year to become more skillful, nuanced, insightful readers of words. What do they or people they respect already know how to read better than I do? The sky? The sea? A computer program? People’s faces? The soccer defense? 

Reading is just noticing a detail and inferring a significance from it. We all do it in different mediums. Let’s appreciate how much significance the world is full of that we miss, be learners ourselves on the track of more meaning, and respectfully help our students transfer the skills of inference, connection, questioning, and synthesis they may already have in other fields, to the field of words, numbers, science, art, engines, music, or whatever it is that we’ll be teaching in another month or so.

P.S. The bike guy also read my refurbished frame--he knew it was at least 20 years old--and told me how good it was: "Giant, BMX, everybody has everything made in China these days, and it's no good. Made in Japan or America--that's good." I'll go back to him--he reads bikes better than the guy in Tokyo, who put my back wheel on backward!

What, other than words, do you read, or have you seen someone read?


  1. Really nice one! Where is this bike guy located?

    1. Thanks! North on 6 about 2 miles--tiny place on the right.