Near the end of 1999, the cable channel A &E profiled the most influential people of the millennium about to close. Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, came out No. 1.
While Gutenberg could never rival the genius of men such as Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci or William Shakespeare, his solitary contribution has had a most profound effect on modern civilization. Before Gutenberg, most everyone started from scratch, unable to build on the ideas of others, to enhance or refine or refute them.
It must have been a dreary life in the day before books and magazines and newspapers. I mean, how did they ever find out what time "The Bachelorette’’ was going to be on? Who did retired teachers nit-pick when there were no offending journalists so carelessly dangling participles or splitting infinitives?
Gutenberg’s invention was much on my mind as I made my way to Tarwater Elementary School in Chandler on Friday to be a part of the most important day of the school year.
Friday was "Read for Success’’ day at the school, with volunteer readers in every classroom. Among them were politicians and police officers, beauty queens and baseball players (the Diamondbacks’ Chad Tracy brought along the 2001 World Championship trophy).
I was assigned to read to Mrs. Walker’s second-grade class. Nicole Turner, the current Miss Ocotillo, read to the class, too. Turner wore her tiara and read "The Paper Bag Princess.’’ I shared a tiaraless reading of "The Paper Boy.’’
Miss Ocotillo got the better material. Her story had a dragon. By contrast, it turned out to be an uneventful day for the main character in my story. He delivered his newspapers and went home and back to bed. This seems like a serious flaw in any book and I was tempted to ad-lib a little, perhaps introduce a villain or some sort of catastrophe. But my better judgment prevailed. I read the story as it was written.
If the 23 second-graders detected the flaw, they did not show it.
They sat cross-legged and listened attentively, occasionally making an observation about our main character. They like to read, they say, even stories that don’t have dragons, apparently.
The typical second-grader probably doesn’t think beyond recess. But in developing a passion for the written word, young readers are shaping their futures with the most essential tool in education. Reading is a prerequisite to every educational endeavor. Show me a kid who reads and I’ll show you someone for whom the AIMS test holds no horror.
Mrs. Walker’s class, readers all, will do well.
At a time when "American Idol" gets better ratings than the State of the Union address, that’s a comforting thought.