Weekly Column by Loretta Redd
My brother was in elementary school in the 1950’s; far too early for a clear comprehension of learning disabilities. In those days, there seemed to be two broad categories for children who “couldn’t learn”…the so-called Mildly Retarded or the Just Plain Lazy group.
My brother is one of the smartest people I know. We attended the Westminster Schools in Atlanta; which to this day is considered a premier academic institution. But the experience was far from positive for my brother, who couldn’t spell or read very well.
They tried everything at Westminster. They switched “instructional modalities” from phonetics, to sight reading, back to phonetics, then to memorization…all with little success. In fact, had his name not been Bob, he probably couldn’t spell it to this day.
But stupid, or lazy, he was not.
Bob flunked out of Westminster, yet managed to graduate from public high school where an increased focus on math, geometry, calculus and science saved him. He eloped at 18 and he and his new bride moved to Opelika, Alabama where he attended Auburn University. She handled most of the English assignments, while my brother dove headlong into the new field of computer programming.
Finally, a ‘language’ that made sense to Bob! He wasn’t retarded–he wasn’t lazy– he was dyslexic.
Bob graduated in just three years and found employment with a company he could spell: IBM. For the rest of his working life, until a brain aneurysm forced his recent retirement, Bob remained one of the few programmers for IBM, Texas Instruments and finally Hewlett-Packard who could still decipher the “ancient” languages of FORTRAN, COBOL, DOS or the OS/360 system.
With fifty years of improved understanding of neurological differences and patterns in learning, you might think we would stop putting those who learn “differently” into a category referred to as, “disabled.”
Let’s admit it…some of us feel there are too many excuses made for children these days when it comes to classroom effort. It seems every other child suffers from some form of “reading disorder,” “behavioral difficulty,” “hyperactivity,” “attention-deficit,” or “learning disorder,” to name but a few.
Today’s classroom teachers are expected to create specialized instructional packages for a large percentage of little learners, while simultaneously addressing the growing number of homes where English is spoken as a second language.
All too often, either single or dual parents are working full time, not to mention the demands of their children’s sports or extracurricular activities, the ever-frustrating homework assignments plus the distraction of today’s social networks.
While parents are expected to support, extend, encourage, diversify, and reinforce classroom learning, without the training to do so, teachers are supposed to find effective ways to get “horizontal” information into a “vertically” processing mind.
If you’re under the assumption that your friends or family aren’t personally affected by dyslexia, it’s more likely that you simply haven’t asked. Or perhaps you aren’t aware of the diverse and awesome “Hall of Fame” occupied by those who think “outside of the box.”
Creative talent and brilliant minds belonging to Albert Einstein, for instance, or Agatha Christie, Whoopi Goldberg, Anderson Cooper, Pablo Picasso, Gen. George Patton, Nolan Ryan, Ozzy Osbourne, Cher and Harry Belafonte, all were “diagnosed” with dyslexia. Business giants like Ted Turner, Charles Schwab and Paul Orfalea, along with the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, all had this marvelous “disability” that forced them to see the world differently.
On Friday, January 17th, at 7:00 pm, n the Santa Barbara High School theatre, filmmaker Harvey Hubbell will offer a free showing of his film, Dislecksia: the Movie, followed by a panel discussion about innovative approaches to improved learning.
Professionals and project supporters from our Santa Barbara Unified School District, the SB Education Foundation, and the Kirby Jones Family Foundation will lead a practical, uplifting, and enlightening engagement with the audience, led by Cheri Rae, director of The Dyslexia Project and author of Dyslexialand, A Map and Guide for Students, Parents and Educators.
The admission is FREE and Spanish language interpreters will be on hand.
Learning differently isn’t a label to be used as an excuse, but rather a reality that affects 1 in every 5 individuals. If you suspect that your child has dyslexia due to their struggles to complete timed tests, take good class notes, read homework assignments, spell properly or organize their thoughts, you should clear your calendar for an evening of entertainment and enlightenment.
If your grandchildren are having difficulty learning, and have expressed their frustration, rejection or exasperation with school, you should attend. If you have an adult friend or co-worker whom you suspect has dyslexia, but is too ashamed to admit it, please encourage them to attend, and support them by coming as well.
It’s never too late to turn challenge into success. Some people with dyslexia will become world renowned, many-like my brother- will find a way to put their differences to use. But for those who will end up dropping out of school, facing a life of frustration and depression, believing they are too stupid to learn, let’s build a safety net of support and education here in Santa Barbara. A community where we are never too busy to care.