The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

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Why did Malcolm X initially struggle with reading according to The Autobiography of Malcolm X?

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According to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X had trouble learning to read better as an adult because his childhood education was limited. As a child, he frequently changed schools and living situations after his father was killed when Malcolm was six years old. Although he enjoyed English class, Malcolm’s formal education ended in the eighth grade. As an adult in prison, he dedicated himself to improving his reading and writing skills.

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Malcolm X became a voracious reader as an adult. While he was incarcerated, his dissatisfaction with the way he expressed himself through writing led him to improve his reading skills. The trouble he experienced in learning to read better as an adult stemmed from his fragmented, limited childhood education.

Growing up, his name was Malcolm Little. When he was six years old, his father was murdered. This was during the Great Depression, and his family was very poor. He and his siblings were sometimes placed in foster homes, and they often changed schools. In junior high, English was one of his favorite subjects. However, his behavior and attention to lessons suffered, because of difficulties with other students. He was discouraged by racist teachers and spent time in reform school. Malcolm did not return to school after the eighth grade.

As an adult, while he was in prison after being convicted of robbery, he grew frustrated when the letters he wrote did not express his feelings and ideas. He dedicated himself to improving both his writing and reading skills. Acquiring a dictionary, he immediately realized how small his vocabulary was and set about memorizing as many words as possible. He quickly progressed to reading all night rather than sleeping.

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