To my true mind all of the sounds of the alphabet are arbitrarily assigned symbols that represent those sounds. It’s the arbitrary part that always caused me the most trouble. Someone, somewhere in the 1st millennium BCE – likely an old, mean monk – decided the sound “pah” should look like “P” combining at least three different alphabets. Everyone acquiesced and then POOF several thousand years later I am just supposed to agree? (I can hear an english teacher I had in the 8th grade shaking her head and say, ”dear, dear, Aryn, why do make it so hard?”…)
In a way Dyslexics are natural born linguistic philosophers. No part of letters or numbers is taken for granted. It is only through conscious repetition that sound and symbol eventually get married. Now, you are saying to yourself, isn’t that true for all kids? Yes, to a degree. The difference is that there is always a lingering skepticism. There is always some air between sound, meaning and symbol. This makes reading forever slow.
“The large brown cow grazes in the green meadow.” You skim, “Lg Brwn Cow Grazes Grn Meadow”. I read “The large brown cow grazes in the green meadow”. You will forget that sentence by breakfast tomorrow. I will forever have an impression of Ferdinand with a flower behind his ear grazing in the tall green grasses outside of Madrid not remembering where I read such a lovely sentence but glad nonetheless.
Teachers are the saviors for us Dyslexics. (They can also be our biggest hurdles.. I have heard some pretty terrible stories) Good, well trained, patient, loving teachers are what make the difference. I had three that I can remember clear as day. I’m even friends on Facebook with one of them – shout to you MM! There were others, like my Chemistry teacher in the 10th grade who seeing that I was smart, but totally ill equipped for science, and wanting me to at least learn something in his class, let me write a 20 page paper on the Armenian Genocide just to pass – Thank you Mr. A. (He is Armenian and was lobbying in his off hours to have the genocide recognized officially by the UN)
There were also the countless hours with parents and guardians hovering and helping. My step mother would take dictation and type my papers for me. Into the wee hours of the night my mother would all but write my papers for me. Uncle M. would help me with geometry and my poor dad would try and muster the patience to explain multiplication again for the tenth time – 7s still give me trouble. It always confounded him that I could grasp scale, but multiplying 9×7 was torture. All this and the tutors, it truly takes a village.
My stepmother tells this story, she challenged the then headmaster of The Calhoun School to stay true to her word, that they wanted children of all learning styles. It’s right there in the mission statement still, “At Calhoun, teaching and learning begin with the strengths, needs, questions and diverse life experiences of the individual student.” I can promise you telling my stepmom “no” is not easy. So, that is where I went for eight years. Thank goodness I did. Progressive education saved me.
Most class curriculums, including most progressive formats, are based on the concept that you build up on the lessons before it. This is done linearly. The essential assumption in that concept is that the students must commit the lessons to memory and be fluid with the information. Often we do not get fluid and some simply can’t memorize any more than they could turn themselves purple. Imagine trying to do Algebra when you are still counting on your fingers.
Things like Math and Science are taught with a heavy amount of rote memorization and “it’s true because it is so”. We have already established that, for me, that argument is fruitless. I have always wondered how much easier and fun it would be, not just for the Dyslexics in the room, but all the kids, if curriculums were turned upside down and inside out. Teach the concept, the reasons, the stories and then the facts and figures. Use the numbers and signatures to illustrate the content. This way you would have a population that at least understood the basic principles of physics, even if they cannot do the problems. It should be noted here that 1 in 5 Americans are Dyslexic. Progressive could take on a new gravitas and not just be code for small classes and hands on projects.
I have mentioned this over the years to a number of teacher friends and heard all the lazy reasons why it won’t work. I can tell you that A Brief History of Time and The Tao of Physics are among my favorite books. Smart is not the issue. Different is not lesser. Once culture truly absorbs that, then anything could be possible.
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