Saturday, July 10, 2004

No More Mister Nice Goat 

At last the secret has been discovered.

What was it, we have wondered, about the book "The Pet Goat" that so fascinated George Bush? What kept him engrossed in it for those seven long, agonizing minutes despite hearing the news that his country was under attack?

The plotline? The challenge of making his way through a literary effort aimed at (we now know, see below) "struggling readers"? A troubling fascination with a creature associated throughout Western history with uncontrollable sexual enthusiasm?

While some of these details remain unclear, at least we know who to blame it on: Lyndon Johnson.

(via Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette)
URBANA – Proving that everything has an Urbana connection, here's one about the hit documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Filmmaker Michael Moore put seven minutes of the president reading "The Pet Goat" to Florida second-graders in the film, footage taken just after Bush learned of the terrorist attack on America – and continued to read on as if stunned.

Elaine C. Bruner, a longtime UI psychologist who co-wrote the text in which "The Pet Goat" can be found, is not a Bush fan, but says she can understand why the president might seem frozen with shock after the news.

"Clinton was so verbal, so quick to respond," she says. "Bush ... well..."

In 1969, she was an academic professional and part of a team writing a series of reading texts for SRA, then part of IBM, and now part of the McGraw-Hill publishing empire.

"The series came out of the (Lyndon) Johnson Great Society," she recalls.

One of the concepts in "The Pet Goat" that the president was communicating by reading aloud is that by adding a silent e, a vowel becomes long, as in "pan" and "pane" or "man" and "mane."

The main author of the series is Siegfried Engelmann, now at the University of Oregon, she said. It was part of Project Follow Through, a 1967 initiative of Johnson's War on Poverty.

"At one time we were told there could be no pictures of junk food" in the books, she said, "but President Reagan rescued us when he declared that ketchup was a vegetable'

"Having been developed at the UI, it was universal in schools for a while, then used for struggling learners," Bruner said. "Several of us spent our careers developing (the series), so the newfound notoriety of 'The Pet Goat' is kind of ironic. There was little or no media attention to it before."

In fact, due to the film, the reading text is now a collector's item on the Internet.

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