Monday, 2 February 2009

Why children in Philadelphia love reading

"Every deviation has an explanation," used to say John Graunt, the man who invented statistics in 1662. For years, I have been looking for an exception to that rule, to no avail. It is an inescapable truth, from which my long experience as auditor has always shown me the darkest side.

Numbers, data, additions and subtractions, that's my life. I know figures and my job is to make them speak. If there is a minor mistake, I will find the reason. If there is a major irregularity, I will find the person. I have put my trust in average values. May God help those who deviate.

I examined Eileen Graham's photograph while the Air France stewardess removed my breakfast tray. How had a school teacher managed to fake the results of an international reading survey? What had prompted her to pretend that children in her class read five times more books than the average twelve-year-old in industrialized countries?

"I am going to expose your lies, Eileen," I swore to myself as we landed in Philadelphia International Airport. The Reading Child Foundation had hired our accountants firm in Paris to audit their World Annual Survey and I was intending to give them good value for money. No Philadelphia school teacher was going to succeed in hiding the truth from me.

Two hours later, I parked my rental Ford close to the Italian Market in South 9th Street and walked to Schakamaxon School. The neighbourhood was middle-class and houses were well kept. A nice place to live. I wondered if one of those houses would be Eileen Graham's.

"Miss Graham runs our school's Saturday reading programme
," the school master explained to me proudly. "It's not only the best in Philadelphia, but also the best in the world." I nodded, feeling a little sad for the schoolmaster. It was obvious that he was also involved in faking the reading survey's results.

He gave me the names of three families in the neighbourhood and I spent Friday afternoon talking to them. While the parents raved about how their children had taken up reading books with passion thanks to Eileen Graham's programme, I began to realize that dozens of people might be involved in the survey fraud.

I slept badly due to the jet-lag and, on Saturday morning, I went back to
Schakamaxon School. That was to be the end of the chase, the end of Eileen Graham's lies. I parked my car in front of the school and consulted my watch. Since it was still too early, I decided to review my file once more.

A dog's bark woke me up an hour later. My body was still functioning in another time zone and I had fallen asleep. I looked across 9th Street and could not believe my eyes. The sidewalk was now full of children queuing
in front of the school building.

I got out of the car and crossed 9th Street, only to see a woman in her thirties open the school door and let the children in. It was Eileen Graham. I remarked that each child was carrying at least one book and, surprised, I stood still on the sidewalk.

What on earth was making those children come to school on a Saturday morning? It was inconceivable that a Philadelphia school teacher had discovered a revolutionary technique to awake children's interest in reading.

All children went into
Schakamaxon School and its front door closed. As I slowly walked towards the building, I told myself that, after twenty-three years of doing audits around the world, I was about to learn something new.

The sign on the school's front door was hand-written. The round letters denote a female hand, I thought. Had Eileen Graham written the words herself?

In any case, if that was her method of elevating the world's children literacy rates, I had to recognize that it was a brilliant idea. "Saturday Reading Class," read the sign, "Free Hot Chocolate with Vanilla Ice Cream."


[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by guldfisken under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Why children in Philadelphia love reading

"Every deviation has an explanation," used to say John Graunt, the man who invented statistics in 1662. For years, I have been looking for an exception to that rule, to no avail. It is an inescapable truth, from which my long experience as auditor has always shown me the darkest side.

Numbers, data, additions and subtractions, that's my life. I know figures and my job is to make them speak. If there is a minor mistake, I will find the reason. If there is a major irregularity, I will find the person. I have put my trust in average values. May God help those who deviate.

I examined Eileen Graham's photograph while the Air France stewardess removed my breakfast tray. How had a school teacher managed to fake the results of an international reading survey? What had prompted her to pretend that children in her class read five times more books than the average twelve-year-old in industrialized countries?

"I am going to expose your lies, Eileen," I swore to myself as we landed in Philadelphia International Airport. The Reading Child Foundation had hired our accountants firm in Paris to audit their World Annual Survey and I was intending to give them good value for money. No Philadelphia school teacher was going to succeed in hiding the truth from me.

Two hours later, I parked my rental Ford close to the Italian Market in South 9th Street and walked to Schakamaxon School. The neighbourhood was middle-class and houses were well kept. A nice place to live. I wondered if one of those houses would be Eileen Graham's.

"Miss Graham runs our school's Saturday reading programme
," the school master explained to me proudly. "It's not only the best in Philadelphia, but also the best in the world." I nodded, feeling a little sad for the schoolmaster. It was obvious that he was also involved in faking the reading survey's results.

He gave me the names of three families in the neighbourhood and I spent Friday afternoon talking to them. While the parents raved about how their children had taken up reading books with passion thanks to Eileen Graham's programme, I began to realize that dozens of people might be involved in the survey fraud.

I slept badly due to the jet-lag and, on Saturday morning, I went back to
Schakamaxon School. That was to be the end of the chase, the end of Eileen Graham's lies. I parked my car in front of the school and consulted my watch. Since it was still too early, I decided to review my file once more.

A dog's bark woke me up an hour later. My body was still functioning in another time zone and I had fallen asleep. I looked across 9th Street and could not believe my eyes. The sidewalk was now full of children queuing
in front of the school building.

I got out of the car and crossed 9th Street, only to see a woman in her thirties open the school door and let the children in. It was Eileen Graham. I remarked that each child was carrying at least one book and, surprised, I stood still on the sidewalk.

What on earth was making those children come to school on a Saturday morning? It was inconceivable that a Philadelphia school teacher had discovered a revolutionary technique to awake children's interest in reading.

All children went into
Schakamaxon School and its front door closed. As I slowly walked towards the building, I told myself that, after twenty-three years of doing audits around the world, I was about to learn something new.

The sign on the school's front door was hand-written. The round letters denote a female hand, I thought. Had Eileen Graham written the words herself?

In any case, if that was her method of elevating the world's children literacy rates, I had to recognize that it was a brilliant idea. "Saturday Reading Class," read the sign, "Free Hot Chocolate with Vanilla Ice Cream."


[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by guldfisken under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]