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Maybe Johnny can't read because his parents won't let him

''I don't know why my son doesn't read more,'' says a concerned mother. ''We can't understand,'' a father complains to a teacher, ''why Katie doesn't read.''

But if their child's teacher told them why, would they listen - really listen? Possibly not.

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Parents are sometimes part of the problem. They don't realize it. They don't mean to be. They want their children to be well rounded, and the rounding of a child takes time - a lot of time.

Teachers don't like to put parents on the defensive. Parents on the defensive seldom take suggestions.

And yet, when I was teaching junior high school, I felt a responsibility to make parents who asked why - and those who didn't ask - aware of the problem.

''Advice,'' wrote Samuel Coleridge, ''is like snow; the softer it falls the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.'' Back-to-School Night, in October, seemed a good time to let it fall - softly.

At the close of my comments on our instructional program, activities, and goals for the year, I would tell the assembled mothers and fathers, ''Parents sometimes say they are concerned because their children don't read more. It is a valid concern - and one I share. Now I'd like to share something else with you'':

The well-rounded child

I wonder why Johnny doesn't read? He's a talented child, indeed. The Little League coach says he's great At throwing balls over the plate.

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At piano, we're told he's progressed, And in swim class he's one of the best. He joined the Boy Scouts in the fall, In winter, plays Y basketball.

We are pleased with our boy, yes indeed, But we wonder why he doesn't read. Though at tennis he doesn't excel, His lessons are going quite well.

Soccer we've naturally stressed (His coach is one of the best). Socially, a source of great pride, John always has friends by his side.

His computer he really enjoys - Plays video games with the boys. But though we agree there's a need - He doesn't seem ever to read.

His teachers say his reading score Would improve if he would read more. I suppose they are right, but then, We simply can't figure out when.

The poem gave parents something to think about. There were always smiles, nods of recognition, comments in agreement. Reading, I reminded them, is part of being well rounded. But, as with all the other skills, we must be sure to make time for it in the busy lives of our children. The advice had fallen softly. For some, it would even sink in. I never told them I wrote the poem.

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