A few months ago, I picked up a book titled “Learning Outside the Lines” about two learning disabled guys who went from being at the bottom of the barrel, academically & socially, to graduating from Brown University with honors. Of these two guys, the story that I related to the most was told by Jonathan Mooney…dyslexic and ADHD.
His struggles…to be respected, valued, understood at school… were mirrored in my daughter’s struggles for the same things. His shames… of being ‘different’, ‘stupid’, ‘not normal’… were my daughters shames. His feelings towards learning…frustration, anger, defeat…were my daughter’s feelings. I read the book, crying and laughing through it, and then I read it again with my daughter. Well, not all of it…Jonathan can curse with the best of them and I substituted some of my own words over those.
Here, finally, was someone drawing the line against the traditional school’s policy of ‘fixing the kid’ so they can stay in the system without causing too much of a disturbance. His take on it is that these ‘Learning Disabled kids’ are just fine…it’s the system that needs fixing. Traditional schools remediate the disability without acknowledging the great strengths that come with it. He advocates broadening the concept of ‘intelligence’ in schools so that they work with kids on all different levels and interests. He calls schools out for creating a standard of ‘normal’ as a one size fits all idea that kids need to strive for and teachers need to emphasize. He has strong criticism for ‘No Child Left Behind’. What he calls for is nothing short of a massive paradigm shift to include all types of learners into the system rather than segregate these divergent thinkers into a wasteland of low expectations and shame driven remediation in ‘Special Ed’ to become ‘normal’ like the other kids.
I am all for it.
Truthfully, I am making him sound a lot more boring than he, and his message, really are. His books are full of humor and self deprecation. When we sat to listen to him speak at The Tattered Cover bookstore recently, he engaged both my daughter and myself for 1 1/2 hours. He said things like, “The problem isn’t that I have dyslexia…the problem is the teachers had dysteachia.” Them’s fighting words, and I can’t imagine many educators would take that message very well. So then why do we feel it’s OK to blame the child instead? His point about fixing the exclusionary system instead of fixing the child also is pretty radical an idea. I snuck glances over to my daughter while he was talking about his experiences and saw her nodding as if to say, “Amen brother!” and hope that the message of personal worth & capability will speak louder to her than the previous message she received of being ‘broken’ and ‘not normal’ at school.
The very term they use to describe ‘divergent thinkers’ in public schools is derogatory. Learning Disability. Dis-able. Unable. I bought that for about 6 months, and then chucked it all out the window after having my daughter home with me and watching her learn as easily as a plant uses sunlight to grow. Granted, it wasn’t ‘learning’ in the traditional school way, but it was her own doing and it is her own learning. Thank goodness we have the freedom to remove the label and let learning happen.
At the end, he signed his new book, “The Short Bus: A journey beyond normal” and we took a picture with him. He asked The Naturalist what school she attended, and she said she was homeschooled. “Aaahhhh” he said. “How long did you make it through school before homeschooling?” She replied, “3rd grade.” He got a faraway look in his eye and said quietly, “Yeah, that’s about when I wanted out, too.” They both nodded to each other knowingly and smiled.
He dedicated her book: “To (The Naturalist). ‘Normal’ people suck. Enjoy your ride! Jonathan Mooney”
Filed under: Homeschool/Unschool, Learning Differences Tagged: | , ADHD, dyslexia, Education Reform, homeschooling, Jonathan Mooney, Learning Differences, Learning disability, No Child Left Behind, rant about public school policy, Special Ed, The Short Bus, unschooling