Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Week of May 10, 2015

Her name was Evelyn Wood.  A Mormon from Salt Lake City, UT, she was in the throes of education, both teaching and studying, when she stumbled upon what would spring many an infomercial and scheming sales pitch promising superhuman abilities.

You may recognize Evelyn Wood as the speed reading guru.  I borrowed this from an obituary printed in the NY Times (August 30, 1995):

"Speed is not most important, but only through speed do you get good comprehension," Mrs. Wood said.
It was a theory that Mrs. Wood began to develop during the late 1940's and early 1950's, when she was a teacher and girls' counselor at Jordan High School in Salt Lake City.
Dealing with underachievers with personality problems, Mrs. Wood realized that they had one thing in common. All were poor readers.
Mrs. Wood established the school's first remedial reading program and discovered that as the girls read better, their grades improved in every subject and they became better adjusted.
And she discovered one other thing: the faster the girls read, the better they read.
She began refining her techniques for faster reading.
The next breakthrough came when Mrs. Wood, who was born in 1909 in Logan, Utah, returned to the University of Utah. At the college where she had earned her bachelor's degree in English in 1929, she now pursued a master's degree in speech.
When she turned in her term paper to the head of the department, Dr. C. Lowell Lees, she recalled:
"I handed Dr. Lees a term paper and watched him flip through the 80 pages at a startling rate, grade the paper and hand it back. He appeared to be reading as fast as he could turn the pages. He knew the total content and was able to tell me not only what was in it, but also what was missing. Intrigued, I clocked him on other material and found he could read at a rate of 2,500 words a minute."

Evelyn Wood would go on to start Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, helping many around the globe break out of the average reading speed of 250-300 words per minute.  Look her up!  Her story is fascinating.

I've been interested in speed reading for a while.  Maybe it's because reading was always challenging to me.  Not until my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Melinda Roach, offered to pick up a couple of us students from our homes, tutoring us for free in her own home, did I cease giving in to the defeatist voice making impossible that daunting task of focusing on pages of words and comprehending them.  She did nothing spectacular with us.  Mrs. Roach simply believed in us.  We knew because she was there in our driveways weekly.  We knew because she kept reminding us that this reading thing was really doable.  I guess I began believing in myself because she did.  Her voice began replacing that internal, accusative, discouraging, judging voice always there to remind me that quitting was the sensible option.

Busy with life, I learned too late that Mrs. Roach, age 51, had journeyed with cancer and transitioned into the next life; so, I never got to share with her how the power of her belief in me cured my discouragement.  Yet, I know she somehow knows what I'm typing.  It's her proud voice that pushes me to explore even greater ground in reading; and, that's why I write this now.

Back to Evelyn Wood...  She and other reader-nauts stumbled upon a universal truth.  Grasping this truth opens doors far beyond a simple love for reading.  They discovered that sub-vocalization is the culprit to all that's slow and overwhelming in reading.  What is sub-vocalization?  It's the voice in our heads wanting to sound out every single word we see.  That voice was our refuge in grade school.  Remember those dead stand-stills when reading aloud in class, stuttering over words that just seemed misspelled?  "Sound it out," teachers would say.  Learning to feel words and move with the rhythm of the beat of their consonants and to flow with the soft sustain of their vowels was priceless.  Unfortunately, like the enchanting song of the Sirens, this rhythm lulls us to the rocks and wrecks our hopes of ever exceeding that vocal constant: the speed of human speech.  Our escape into speed reading is exactly that of Odysseus: we have to silence the inner voice with the beeswax of intention and bind ourselves to the mast of a pacing hand.  Writhing and gnashing, the fear and awkwardness is unbearable at first.  The inner voice screams, "You're missing everything!  This doesn't work!  You've been had!  You can't do this without me!"  

After her encounter with Dr. Lees, Evelyn Wood researched natural speed readers who had silenced the voice and read, like him, at a rate of more than 2,500 words per minute.  Some natural speed readers were well known.  

The NY Times article continues:

In time, President John F. Kennedy sent a dozen members of the White House staff to the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics Institute in Washington. President Richard M. Nixon sent 35 high-ranking members of his Administration, and President Jimmy Carter followed suit.

I don't mean to presume I'm a fair representation of average here; but, to me, it's absolutely amazing that this many well-known folk had discovered, however momentary it might have been, life without the inner voice--"the Critic." 

Whether we ourselves ever become speed readers or not, the universal truth moves us.  When the inner voice is silent, life--human life--seems to open up in new and exciting ways.  Hitting a golf ball; running a touchdown; connecting for yet another consecutive base hit; in the zone of our exercise routine; wrapped up in our instrument; fully present on a walk with our pet or while playing with our kids; anything we find ourselves doing without "the Critic" is done most fully and in ways beyond what we ever imagined to be humanly possible.

I know I sound like a broken record, but some sayings of Jesus are just fundamental: 

"All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them"(Mark 8.35).

That inner voice is easily mistaken for our TRUE selves, our TRUE life and soul.  Lose it, and you'll find the full life Christ came to live--human life lived beyond anything we ever imagined!

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