Personal History and Memories of the SRA Reading System circa 1969

A photo of the SRA materials

A photo of the SRA materials

Yesterday I took the first step of the next phase of my long campaign against the unreasoning fear I have that I’ll be noticed by others and then be severely punished. Since this is an even-numbered day in the new year, I’m going to post 300 words about my just-underway process. I met with a woman who is a LCSW and also does energy healing. We just talked, but outlining the whole arc of my story put me in such a state of relief and stillness that I couldn’t do much of anything for the rest of the day. The one thing I did do was begin to work on the homework she gave me: to “write the story of my life.” Here’s the first bit of it.

I was in Pete Vlahos’ class for fourth and fifth grade at Surrey Downs elementary in Bellevue, Washington. Surrey Downs was located in a subdivision called Surrey Downs. I lived in the woods on a hill above the subdivision. I grew up in a house my father designed, helped build, and was eventually asked to leave.

The school was progressive, and classes mixed fourth, fifth and sixth graders together (I was there for fourth and fifth and then skipped sixth grade, propelling me directly from fifth grade into the wilderness of junior high. Given the chance, I recommend resisting such a suggestion.)

The school used SRA readers to teach reading in a self-guided and graduated way. There was a box with passages to read printed on laminated cards in a color-coded progression of increasing levels of difficulty. (Someone who also remembers the SRA system writes about it here. []

I was happy and excited about this approach to reading because I could go through it as quickly as I wanted (which was very quickly) and it provided relief from an increasingly oppressive sense of boredom at school. The time I spent off to the side with SRA were perhaps my last moments of unselfconscious pursuit of intellectual pleasure in school for the next seven years. I didn’t have a thought about anyone else or their relationship to the graduated levels of reading mastery. The only anxiety I felt was focused on knowing I was approaching purple and then would run out of colors.

Around this time I was also experiencing a dawning realization that all was not well between me and my classmates. I remember showing up for the first day wearing my first pair of glasses. I was greeted with what to me was a bizarre and rapidly spreading outburst of laughter. I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that one could find oneself even temporarily outside the group looking in. I would spend much of the following years discovering many of the ways one can.

There’s more where that came from, including the story of my captivation with the divine Miss Waterworth.

3 comments to Personal History and Memories of the SRA Reading System circa 1969

  • Chris Wall

    Thanks for posting this. I remember SRA from when I was in first grade. I attended the American School of Milan, and they relied on it pretty heavily. I liked it because it seemed like I was the ideal student for it, and took off like a jack rabbit, wanting to be at the head of my class.

    It worked for me. I’ve gone on to earn a BA and an MA in English.

  • cynthia wagner

    I remember using SRA Reading cards when I lived in Bronx, New York. I attended St. Anthony Elementary.
    I would love to purchase this edition so that I can pass this on to my granddaughter. This program was
    great and I became an excellent reader.

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