Might he have been a decent teacher?

Why did I go into teaching? Looking back it was crazy that I would do that. But I’d been through high school and college without getting caught – so being a teacher seemed a good place to hide. Nobody suspects a teacher of not knowing how to read.

I taught a lot of different things. I was an athletics coach. I taught social studies. I taught typing – I could copy-type at 65 words a minute but I didn’t know what I was typing. I never wrote on a blackboard and there was no printed word in my classroom. We watched a lot of films and had a lot of discussions.

I remember how fearful I was. I couldn’t even take the roll – I had to ask the students to pronounce their names so I could hear their names. And I always had two or three students who I identified early – the ones who could read and write best in the classroom – to help me. They were my teaching aids. They didn’t suspect at all – you don’t suspect the teacher.

Here is the full story, with other interesting 2/3 throughout, via the excellent Samir Varma.


The oldest of the five sons of John D. Rockefeller Jr., John D. Rockefeller III, received a classical education and was a fine student (an economics major in college), but made little impact on the larger world. In contrast, the four younger songs -- Nelson, David, Laurance, and Winthrop -- attended an extremely progressive school founded upon the principles of John Dewey, and were only semi-literate.

But the four younger sons were dynamo executives. They seldom bothered with all the thick memos sent them, but called the authors in and peppered them with questions.

Not reading may well be a competitive advantage at the top in a few professions. Like Jack Lipnik, the movie mogul in "Barton Fink:"

I can't write anything by tomorrow.

Who said write? Jesus, Jack can't
read. You gotta TELL it to him-tell
him SOMEthing for Chrissake.


On the otherhand nothing kills a great idea that actually writing it down and then you instantly see the flaws. Illiterate people doing well are the exception for a reason.

"Illiterate people doing well are the exception for a reason."

Everyone is expected to learn to read, and smart, capable people are almost always able to learn to read. Therefore it is extremely rare to find a successful person who can't read.

Much like a college degree, reading is strongly associated with ability and success, but that association is not good evidence of causation.

Don't get me wrong, it seems obvious that reading is hugely beneficial. However, evidence of how large the benefit is isn't so easy to obtain, because there are hardly any smart illiterate people to study.

Reading is easy, I can and have taught 4 year old's to read. If a child cannot read and cannot learn to read then there is something seriously wrong with them. While it may not prevent them from being able to do a good job in their chosen career field it will certainly make it more difficult and prevent them from being as successful as they could be with proper reading skills.

Khrushchev was to all intents and purposes illiterate.

It may have helped him. After all, Stalin didn't have him killed. Maybe it was because he was not a Dangerous Intellectual.

Off-topic: There's an Amazon film called 'The Death of Stalin' out with Steve Bushemi playing Khrushchev. I recommend it. It's hilarious. IIRC it's based on a play or a book or something. Dark satire.

It's hilarious because it was created by the same guy who created Veep

I'm going to avoid anything with a character that is obviously supposed to represent Sarah Palin.

Then you'll love Veep and The Death of Stalin because neither has a Sarah Palin-type character.

It is a great film, but Amazon had nothing to do with it.

When you say "semi-literate", what exactly do you mean? David Rockefeller graduated cum laude from Harvard and got a PhD in economics from Chicago. His dissertation was titled "Unused Resources and Economic Waste", which sounds like the kind of mind numbing paper that only a highly literate person could produce. Granted, he was a Rockefeller, and his grandfather founded the University of Chicago, so maybe he just coasted through without actually doing any work, but it's hard to believe that he was semi-literate.

Regarding executives, I think even the most highly literate among them actually end up spending most of their time in meetings and talking to people. The reading and writing is delegated to all the layers below them.

Yeah. Do you have a source?


If education is all about signaling (or he taught mostly phys ed), then he could have been an excellent teacher! (I couldn't resist.)

I was an athletics coach. I taught social studies.

Well being an athletics coach may not require literacy but I would think there is a good joke about social studies teachers waiting to get out. I would just note that an illiterate social studies teacher is probably the best sort.

It is a sub-literate subject anyway.

If you're going to do social studies, watching films and having discussions is probably the best way, since it's all really Bullshitting 101 anyway.

I call BS. The story of how he passed his exams doesn't sound credible to me. If not outright lying his readind difficulties sound hugely exaggerated.

Something has always seemed a little off about this story to me too. It seems like any human with even average intelligence should learn how to read even by accident with how prevalent words are. A two year old who doesn't know a single letter figures out the McDonald's logo pretty fast, and it'd be hard after doing that ten million times a year to not start seeing a pattern with some of the letters and words.

"there were some words that I could remember, but I couldn't write a sentence - I was in high school and reading at the second or third grade level"

The typing comment really makes me doubt this. You can't do 65 wpm if you are just putting a series of random letters into a keyboard.

The definition of decent involves being socially acceptable and follow moral principles.

Of course this guy was morally acceptable. It doesn't matter if classmates or his wife helped him to cheat. He was accepted therefore he was "decent". For the second part, lying in such manner is fails in any moral assessment.

Considering decent and teacher together.....it beg for other perspectives. Starting with the lowest bar: do no harm. It seems this guy was not violent or molested students, so decent teacher. Role models perspective: there are f*cked up adults everywhere and this guy looks like a nice family man. It's necessary to be patient and like kids, therefore a decent teacher.

More than crucifying this guy for not reading, is it really necessary to have a Bachelor degree to be a decent Phys Ed teacher? Camp counselors do a very similar job, they know how to handle large groups of kids, organize activities are good role models.......... and cost a lot less per hour.

Pre-literate societies were the norm until a relatively short time ago and exist to this day. Education and information in them was received first hand, orally from one person to another. The recipient was easily able to judge the veracity of the speaker. Orthographic communication, on the other hand, can come from any era and any place. It only needs to be in the recipient's language. He's unable to make a valid assessment of the material, having no real knowledge of the instructor. This is an explanation, in part, for the success of fake news. It's unlikely, of course, that an illiterate could succeed in teaching many subjects. Probably should stick to liberal arts.

Right you are chuck martel, and 'writing it down' is one reason there was conflict between the Protestant / Apostolic and Catholic churches (at least one reason, the other being nationalist politics).

I still do not understand the American system, where the P.E. teacher also teaches Euclid, Shakespeare and typing.

...where the P.E. teacher also teaches Euclid, Shakespeare and typing.

Any two; never all three

Ah, OK, then. Proceed.

I'll take the bait. Every individual has the capacity to learn, if the individual has the desire, the discipline, and the will, including learning to read at age 48. While each individual is unique, and some individuals may have greater cognition than others, learning is an individual endeavor. All it takes is a little inspiration and inspiration (the individual who learned to read at age 48 was inspired by Barbara Bush). Which brings me to the debate between Sam Harris and Ezra Klein about the cognition (IQ) of the black race. I read the transcript of the debate so you don't have to. Contrary to some reports, Klein does not dispute the research findings that blacks on the whole have lower cognition (IQ) than whites. No, it's not Klein who ignores research findings, it's Harris: Harris refuses to even acknowledge that research findings support the conclusion that hundreds of years of slavery and abuse of blacks affects the cognition (IQ) of blacks today. Every time Klein refers to the research, Harris responds that Klein is insinuating that Harris is a racist, which Harris vehemently denies, and that, of course, an individual's environment can affect that individual's cognition, which is the proof that Harris is not a racist.

Here is the link to the transcript of the debate and the podcast: https://www.vox.com/2018/4/9/17210248/sam-harris-ezra-klein-charles-murray-transcript-podcast Here is an article that cites the research to which Klein alludes in the debate: https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/5/18/15655638/charles-murray-race-iq-sam-harris-science-free-speech That the black race is innately less intelligent than the white race strikes me as unlikely, but so does the finding that hundreds of years of slavery and abuse of the black race in the past can affect black cognition (IQ) today.

There are no research finding proving that slavery is the cause of low Black IQ. How could their be? You cannot measure the impact of slavery. Except to say that any evidence of poor performance must be the result of slavery.

Which is what VOX does - with no evidence at all, they insist that the only socially acceptable explanation for poor Black outcomes is slavery. It is Whitey's fault. That is it.

Evolution means difference. If you accept evolution there is no reason to accept that humans are equal. As individuals or as groups. It is a theological concept from Christianity.

"If you accept evolution there is no reason to accept that humans are equal. As individuals or as groups. It is a theological concept from Christianity."
Someone should have told White South Africans and Southern Americans that. Maybe their priests. Also, some Conservatives still praise the Lost Cause as a holy cause.

Why God would create peoples with different body types (and man and women very different in mind - it seems to be veeeery important for American Conservatives) and HAVE to make every race intelectually equal is a theological mystery (of the religion of hypocrisy).

Well color me pink- a rayward comment with paragraphs! I guess an old dog can learn a new trick!

I have employed several excellent tradesmen for small building jobs or groundwork, but when I wanted something else doing I would send them an SMS or an email because I didn't want to interrupt whatever else they may have been doing by ringing a bell. When some of them never replied after several attempts, a synchronous voice call got results (and no one fell off a ladder). I found this quite strange, until it transpired that all of them had difficulty reading and writing, despite being excellent at their jobs.

I have also noticed that many large companies communicate with the telephone as the major medium to use. This is highly inconvenient for customers, as they can be kept waiting in telephone queues and what is more paying a lot of money in call charges just for queuing. In addition, the music is interrupted every 20 seconds with what appears to be someone answering the call. But it is a voice repeating the lie that the call is important to them.

This makes me wonder whether illiteracy in the population is much more of a problem than generally supposed.

According to scientists, one-fifth of Americans can't read or barelĂ˝ can read. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functional_illiteracy
It has been know for decades: https://www.google.com.br/search?num=40&client=tablet-android-samsung&ei=PpjUWpTuM8O5wASbz5egBw&q=why+johnny+cant%3Aread&oq=why+johnny+cant%3Aread&gs_l=mobile-gws-serp.3...10173.10977..11821...0....351.1186.0j1j0j3..........1..mobile-gws-wiz-serp.F81ycB8lVXs%3D

Illiteracy is not the same as ignorance. Plato argues in Phaedrus that reading is a crutch and great minds rely on memory. I know some craftsmen who are very skilled, one the propriator of a machine shop contracting business, who are not illiterate due to limited formal education and what would now be called ADHD in childhood.

This sort of makes me wonder if there is a special language module in the human brain designed for reading, and that this guy, for whatever reason, had that damaged.
I could read and write when I was three. I feel off the monkey bars and bit my tongue open and when I was at the hospital wouldn't open my mouth for the doctors until my parents told them I could write and they gave me a note pad. I wrote "Don't cut my tongue off" on it and the doctor was impressed that I spelled "tongue" correctly.

if there is a special language module in the human brain designed for reading

Noam Chomsky thinks so.

There can't be a special "reading" module in the brains of humans, because many humans are descended from ancestors none of whom ever learned to read, making it impossible for natural selection to have worked to create such a module. It is conceivable that _some_ humans have brains that have evolved to make reading easier, since reading has been going in some cultures on for thousands of years (though mostly only amongst an elite), but that would imply some significant differences in reading potential among races, which I've never heard of. (This is not the same thing, of course, as differences in general intelligence.)

And so, as of today, Monday, the 16th of April 2018:

what ARE the rates of US adult literacy, adult sub-literacy, and adult illiteracy?

Who has the accurate figures?

Who is reporting these accurate figures?

What might these accurate figures mean for the raging success of American public education, which for some time now has prized mere socialization over pedagogy and has dealt with "social matters" largely to the exclusion of conferring literacy or numeracy?

Paging Bryan Caplan!

Maybe before literacy we should teach overcoming status anxiety. (As if)
Imagine what could be accomplished without all of the worry about appearances...

"there were some words that I could remember, but I couldn't write a sentence - I was in high school and reading at the second or third grade level""

Hello? Most people are ignoring this comment. The second or third grade level reading level drastically alters the narrative of the story.

For reference: Charlotte's Web is a second grade book.

Exactly. And that was decades ago. I'm sure he picked up a thing or two since.

But it's the BBC, so fake news is the norm. Some genius determined that "Teacher is illiterate" was much better click-bait than "Teacher is pretty bad at reading."

Admit it -- the first one sounds heroic for some reason. The second makes you think "What is wrong with this guy?"

He struggled to read to his child and made the stories up. It was enough to make his then-oblivious wife notice.

Yes, I have also never really found that story believable. Anyone who can get through school without learning reading at all has either a very low IQ, which this guy doesn't, or a severe reading disability, which is the likely explanation but in that case he should have a diagnosis of some sort.

As for teaching, high school teachers haven't been able to teach without passing a credential test since the 70s. So he wouldn't be able to get away with it unless he cheated even more than he already has.

And from the sound of it, he was an incredibly angry guy--they de-emphasize that part these days, but didn't when the story first came out in the 80s. He was a cheat and a liar--and no, not a decent teacher.

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