What’s at Stake.

I was going to start a series on education reform, but JBR’s story in the comment section of my last post on motivation inspired me to change topic. (Everyone should read his story, you will be glad you did.) It’s about the kid he hired from a special ed. program who had been misunderstood/misdiagnosed, yet he found his way to success in business. This story answers the question: why should we be concerned about the kid/person who experiences the world differently than others? Who cares, right? Consider this passage from Daveland as I reflected on my visits to LD classrooms some years prior:

“When I visited classrooms, we talked about great thinkers and achievers who reputedly had similar problems. We threw out names like Edison, da Vinci, Einstein, and Franklin, but I often wondered who tested them. Did they all get sent to little rooms with husky women flipping flashcards in their face? And for every Eleanor Roosevelt, were there 100 more who lived in obscurity as drunks and felons? Will they be allowed to bloom late like Flaubert, who didn’t learn to read until he was an adult, or will they be made to feel small like Lee Harvey Oswald? Sometimes I felt like the son of both of these fathers: one moment writing Madame Bovary and the next climbing a tall building with a rifle.

“I couldn’t say to the kids: ‘You’ll be misunderstood most of your life and people will dismiss you rather than try to understand you,’ but I thought it. I also resisted saying that learning disabilities make celebrities seem iconoclastic and the average person pathetic—destined for the fringe of society—or that our prisons were filled with artists, musicians, and other people who can’t spell. Even the term “learning disability” was a misnomer, implying that it was a school issue, when life outside of school was even more out of sync with our faulty wiring. I played the cheerleader hoping, like Mean Jean (my remedial reading teacher) that they might have a chance, hoping that one would emerge like Gustav Flaubert, but knowing there may be a Lee Harvey Oswald in the making.”

The stakes are enormous. Are the future lights to civilization being recognized and nurtured, or are they at the bottom of a scrum in the school yard, bloodied and resentful? How do we ensure that these kids become society’s answer and not another problem? Education reformers have fought for changes that would address these issues, but real change will come from another source. Stay tuned.

BTW, if you’ve not seen this, i’ve included one of those feel-good videos of people reputedly having similar issues. In this case the label is dyslexia. (Personally, I would rather see a video made of people other than celebrities.)



About marty castleberg

I grew up on a farm along the banks of the Upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin. I overcame my school experience to earn a PhD in Organizational Learning at The Union Institute and University. I developed curriculum for adults and taught at a small liberal arts college. Consulting and research in organizational learning with a group that started at MIT segued into ten years of field research at Harley-Davidson, where I was their Learning Historian/Reflective Analyst. I left consulting to learn the craft of writing that went beyond academic studies, organizational narratives, and the occasional essay. I thought the result would be humorous travelogues and essays, but what eventually emerged was much different. With all the theoretical understanding that I amassed about living with LD, I still didn’t understand; that’s why Dave showed up. If you don’t count my eight guitars and four bikes, I live a very simple life in San Francisco.
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