"I was once one of those kids. At 7 years old, I was deeply ashamed to be in the remedial reading program. The experience was made worse when the teacher told my parents there was nothing left she could do, I was a 'lost cause.'"
Guest Blog Post | Ariana Friedlander
It’s back to school time and while that’s very exciting for many, it can also be a source of great pain and anxiety for those that have fallen behind their peers in reading.
I was once one of those kids. At 7 years old, I was deeply ashamed to be in the remedial reading program. The experience was made worse when the teacher told my parents there was nothing left she could do, I was a “lost cause.”
I remember going to the grocery store with my Mom when she asked me to read the sign of a new shop that was opening called Circuit City. I messed up and my Mom’s tone of voice changed as she spoke sternly to me, “You need to take your time Ariana, slow down!” I felt like I was letting my parents down. No matter what I did, it was never enough. I could feel the weight of their frustrations and concerns as they lamented about my reading skills, or lack thereof. As a parent myself, I now see that they too just felt lost and beside themselves. They wanted desperately to help me yet were inadvertently fueling this negative perception I was developing about myself as a reader.
I carried that shame around with me for the rest of my childhood and into adulthood. For years, I lived in fear that people would find out I was really stupid. Whenever we were assigned reading at school I experienced a battle within myself to complete the assignment. I had great anxiety during tests; instead of focusing on what was written in front of me, I played out all the ways I was inadequate in my mind. The simple act of reading for school became a trigger for severe self-doubt.
At the same time, I found that I loved reading certain novels. In middle school, I read every book in the Dragon Riders of Pern series. After we were assigned The Chosen by Chaim Potok in high school, I bought every book he wrote and devoured them. I stayed up till all hours of the night reading Barbara Kingsolver’s novels. It’s like I was two different people. When I read for myself it was pleasurable and I was unstoppable. But when I was forced to read for school I was that 7-year-old, a “lost cause.”
I’ve learned from Book Trust the value and benefit of giving kids a chance to pick out books that are of interest to them. If only someone had taken the time earlier on to teach me how to choose books of interest, perhaps my self-confidence as a reader would have developed sooner. Instead, everyone in my life was more focused on developing my reading skills rather than my passion for books.
That said, there’s no way I would have rebounded from my early childhood experience if it weren’t for the support and encouragement I received from a reading tutor my parents hired. Mary Jane Corabi was patient, compassionate and funny. We sat on the couch together, the BFG in hand and the dictionary within reach as I fumbled along. She never judged, criticized or spoke sternly to me. Mary Jane’s belief in me sparked a joy for reading within. Despite the fact that I read for pleasure (and at grade level by the end of third grade), I struggled to see myself as a reader. But books kept calling me back. The satisfaction I got from reading was undeniable. That coupled with my overly analytical mind and strong sense of curiosity carried me through college and graduate school.
After I finished my post-secondary schooling I continued to struggle, I didn’t read for my own edification only for pleasure. But as a professional and a budding entrepreneur I knew I needed to bridge that gap. My post-secondary schooling showed me the benefits of reading non-fiction yet I couldn’t finish any of the books I bought. As I reflected on this divide I realized what was missing, accountability and camaraderie. So in 2012, I started a business book discussion group called EntrepreNerds. We met monthly, and since I was the facilitator of the group, I felt responsible for finishing every book. In a short amount of time I became known as a reader around town. This new-found persona still astounds me to this day, but most people do not know or understand the struggles from my early childhood. While many people now see me (posing next to a huge stack of books) as a reader, my doubtful, scared 7-year-old self will always be a part of me. As her grip on me slowly fades, I feel compelled to share my story for the 7-year-olds that are out there and struggling now, and for their parents and their teachers.
It might be hard, but your own story is ever evolving and you get to be the author of your life. Don’t let the judgement, shame or ridicule of others tear you down. Surround yourself with people that encourage you while ignoring the rest. Follow your curiosity, find books that speak to you and you’ll find your own joy in reading for it’ll bring you places you never would have imagined possible.
About the Author | Ariana Friedlander
Ariana Friedlander, MPA, is an author, social entrepreneur, and the founder of Rosabella Consulting. She works with leaders doing “Business as Unusual” and specializes in fostering positive change within organizations and companies of all shapes and sizes. Her first book, “A Misfit Entrepreneur’s Guide to Building a Business Your Way” was released in 2016. Ariana made Northern Colorado’s “40 Under Forty” list in 2015 and received the fourth annual Quid Novi Award for Innovative Thought. She earned her master’s degree in organizational leadership from the University of Delaware and has a bachelor’s degree in medical anthropology from Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Ariana lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her family.