RVOD104 Reading: Who Needs It?

(1983, Educational/Short, color)


Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Is their district severely inbred?

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:

School-hating teens learn that even non-academic professions require literacy.


Illiterate people do!Our object lesson du jour focuses on three teens, each planning to miss the big English final tomorrow. Teen One is a basketball prodigy who can’t understand why he needs to pass English to play, but decides to attend anyway when his coach threatens to kick him off the team if he doesn’t. Teen Two is an aspiring young actress, who skips the final to go to an audition in town. The director is intrigued by her audition routine, and asks her to read a part for him. She panics and runs away. Teen Three is an automotive genius planning to drop out of school and work at a garage. His pleas for employment eventually wear down the garage manager; he gives the hopeful young man an application. It takes the boy hours to fill it out, and when he’s finished, his penmanship is fantastically sloppy and all the words are spelled wrong.

Now the crap starts to hit the fan. The English teacher summons the basketball coach to inform him that Teen One showed up for the final, started the test, and then fled the room. From the partially completed work, she has deduced that he doesn’t know how to read. Later, the coach tracks Teen One down and wrings a confession from him, as well as a promise to start adult literacy classes at the local college.

Teen Three’s friend comes by to ask him how it went. Teen Three launches into a spiel about how the place wasn’t right for him, and he’s much too good to work there, etc., and so on. His friend sees through the obvious lie and eventually Teen Three admits he can’t read or write very well. His friend offers to help teach him.

A compassionate assistant director tracks Teen Two down at school and wants to know why she ran away. After some hemming and hawing, Teen Two admits she can’t read. The assistant director says they were really impressed with her audition, but says that they don’t have room for her in their current project. However, if she’ll put an effort into becoming literate, they’d like her to audition again in six months.

Teen One goes home and catches his little brother sneaking away from his homework to play baseball. Little brother gets a scolding and an admonishment to go back and “hit the books,” lest he regret it later in his academic career.


The message of the short is pretty clear: All the talent in the world will not make up for illiteracy. It’s kind of hard to argue with a statement like that. Even the blind and the dyslexic learn how to do this. I’d admonish my readers to stop procrastinating and learn to read, but I’m pretty sure most of you have that covered.

I’m kind of curious about the age and level of illiteracy on display here. How is it possible to get that far in school without reading? And even if reading isn’t the focus of your particular genius, how do manage to fix a diverse selection of cars without reading the manuals? How did you get performance experience without the ability to read scripts? How do you expect to enter even a sports-oriented college program without being able to fill out an application? I know teens can be naïve and oblivious sometimes—at that age I was probably more naïve and oblivious than most, but even I had that figured out. Were schools really that much worse in the eighties?

A few favorite comments: Kevin leads off the short with, “Go to hell, Reading. And take your little pal Math with you.” While the teacher explains that Teen One has gotten through most of high school without being able to read, Kevin speaks for the coach: “But that would mean we totally su... Oh.” As the shiny-faced Teen Two meets her kindly production assistant benefactor, Bill wants to know, “Did she use all the makeup, ever?” It’s a decent short with occasionally hilarious commentary, making it a good experience overall.