Chapter Seven - Part B
Advocacy - continued
THE "WHAT IFs" THAT SHOULD MAKE EVERYONE AN ADVOCATE
Many, if not most, administrators and school board members are fabulous people who care deeply about student outcomes. Others are a little behind the times, and when I say "a little" that could mean "a lot." Apologies in advance to my admin and school board friends who lie awake at night trying to figure out new and inventive strategies to ensure every kid steps across the threshold of tomorrow prepared for the world; we are not talking about you, and you can skip this chapter. If you are an admin or school board member who doesn't quite get it yet (I don’t mean that in a bad way) or are answering to people with agendas that seem counterintuitive to education, please continue.
We are two decades into the twenty-first century, and sadly, there are still public school districts, and even some statewide education departments, that are not on board. Their neglect, often due to lack of legal enforcement, general ignorance, and never-ending misguided budgeting priorities, continues to promote academic neglect, destroy self-esteem, and throw kids in the ring for the gator fight of their life. If you're a mom, dad, teacher, admin, baker, butcher, or candlestick-maker and not in this fight, why the heck are you waiting? Get in the ring or the future of the kids you love (and society needs) are going to be eaten by alligators.
What If The Perception Of Others Became Your Identity?
What if your identity suddenly became an ill-conceived perception of your abilities, based solely on what others might feel you do poorly? What if, because of that impression, a sign was hung around your neck that only spoke to your perceived weaknesses while at the same time ignoring your strengths, talents, and accomplishments?
Poor Jen has Dysodigio!
What if we focused on Jen's identity based on a conclusion that she must be a terrible driver because she backed into the same telephone pole at the post office, twice, in as many months?
No one seemed to notice that Jen brought home the gold medal last year from Las Vegas in the North American Hairstyling Awards! Poor Jen is a struggling driver suffering from Dysodigio (it's from the Greek, Dys = impaired and Odigio means driver).
Poor Ned has Dysbeizmpol!
What if Ned's identity became the unfortunate news that he never got on base last season with his local men's baseball team? It hardly seems fair that everyone has forgotten that on Christmas Eve, as a volunteer fireman, Ned heroically saved an old lady, three kids, and a puppy from a burning building. The next night he revived his neighbor using CPR, and the day after that he splinted Tommy Hornbecker's broken arm and got him to the Emergency Room, STAT! In spite of Ned's stellar performance as a fireman, he is a struggling baseball player affected with Dysbeizmpol (it's from the Greek, Dys = impaired and Beizmpol means baseball).
Oh, And Did You Hear That Poor Karen Has Dysagapi!
What if every time Karen's name came up people dwelled on the "trouble" she had in her marriage? What about the fact that she raised three kids alone while working two jobs and putting herself through college to become a pharmacist? But alas "poor Karen" is afflicted with Dysagapi (it's from the Greek, Dys = impaired and Gapia means Love). Poor, poor Karen must wear a sign around her neck that when translated into English speaks to the notion that she is Love Disabled!
I HAVE A BETTER IDEA!
Look Out, NASA!
Let's get the right curriculum to improve eleven-year-old Brian's reading, writing, and spelling while celebrating the fact that he constructed a working drone out of three coat hangers, half a potato, four computer fans, twelve popsicle sticks, and some Gorilla Glue! He took first place in the school's science fair! You just know this kid is headed straight to MIT and then on to NASA!
No Ten Pound Sign To Slow Down Carly!
And Carly! She's at grade level this year in reading because she took to Orton-Gillingham like icing to cake! And did you hear? She raised $2400 collecting aluminum cans over the summer for the local cat rescue! She signed a publishing deal last week for her new children's book "Kans-4-Kittens!" Carly is a slow, struggling, unable to learn (Learning Disabled) child. Really? We are going to hang that nonsense around her neck instead of a sign that says "Author & Champion?"
He Reads With His Ears!
Ethan, working with the highly enthusiastic Miss Jensen, got a ninety-two percent on his spelling test yesterday! That's a huge improvement from the start of the year! But did you hear the even bigger news? Ethan broke the Guinness World Record for the number of audiobooks listened to in one year! Rumor has it he took the Evelyn Wood Speed Listening Class! He's only in eighth-grade, and Harvard just offered him a full scholarship!
Education Models Have Changed, But Not Enough
Why is it that in some places in America we talk about "difstypro/dyslexic" kids as if they have the plague and are beyond hope? These kids are brilliant, yet terribly misunderstood.
These neurodiverse, nontypical minds are often forced to deal with curriculums that, no matter how hard they try, they will never master. Their minds are different in the same way that engines are different. You wouldn't put propane in a diesel engine. An electric engine won't run off of gasoline no matter how much gas you dump on it, in it, or over it. A rocket is never getting off the launch pad without rocket fuel to fire its propulsion. Far too many kids lose their shot at soaring into the heavens because society can't find its will, or its way, to simply put the proper curriculum in the fuel tank.
THE HERALD REPORTS
Keeping in Mind that twenty percent of students are difstypro/dyslexic, what if you woke up to any of the following headlines?
BIG SPLASH OVER NON-COMPATIBLE SOFTWARE
Any School USA has randomly issued eighty percent of its students a PC laptop. The remaining twenty percent of students received Apple laptops—AND THEN—school officials gave one hundred percent of the students all the necessary curriculum for the year utilizing software applicable to PC users only? The PC software won't work for the twenty percent of students with Apple computers.
"Oh well, some kids just fall through the cracks," a school board spokesman said.
The school's business manager, Maximus C. Beans, told the Morning Herald "It was the best way to coordinate the buy. I want the board to know I can be counted on," Bean said, also adding, "We are hosting the State Championship Swim Competition this fall. The teachers, students, and parents must understand there are hard budgeting decisions to be made if we are going to reach our goal of completing construction on a third Olympic size swimming pool in time for the meet."
PRINCIPAL CUTS WOODSHOP AND CALLS FOR PERFECT PITCH
Any School USA is cutting out woodshop and making choir mandatory this year. There is no explanation as to why, but Principal Cool reluctantly told The Morning last evening, "All students will be required to sing perfect soprano or suffer a failing grade." Six foot eight inch tall Charlie Daniels III, a tenth grader sporting a full beard and deep bass voice, told The Morning Herald, "Boy oh boy, let me tell ya what, it's going to be a devil of a thing for me, but I'm gonna show 'em what I got. We just moved here from Georgia, and I don't fiddle around when it comes to football. I want to be the best there's ever been. A failing grade would get me kicked off the team and crush my soul. So, even though I sing bass like my famous granddad, I'm going to learn to sing soprano even if it damages my vocal cords."
THE EYES HAVE (had) IT
Any School USA has made the front page for its new policy that all students must deposit their glasses and contact lenses in the school's office before 8:00 AM and pick them up at the end of the day. The Morning's evening reporter, Ted Night, is asking hard questions of the recently hired Superintendent, Dr. Duper who said, "I have a new vision framed out for our school that focuses on looking past our challenges, and that includes making sure no kid has a clear advantage by using glasses, a form of specialized technology, to see better. Super Duper went on to say, "I would ask that everyone takes a wait-and-see approach before turning our school into a media spectacle."
The Morning Herald, Late Afternoon Edition:
Letter to the Editor
I'm expressing upset with the recently adopted K-12 one-size-fits-all chair and desk policy. "This is a school, not an airline; kindergarten tiny chairs will work for some, butt not all!"
Mr. I.M. Fitobetied
Any School, USA
When contacted by the Morning's late afternoon reporter, Eve Shade, the schools business manager, Maximus C. Beans said, "Thankfully, we got a great deal on the tiny chairs. We're barely treading water with this year's budget overruns on the new pool. I'm just trying to make ends meet in the classrooms."
BALTIMORE BUYS BEANS' BARGAIN BUSES
School bus service for Any School USA is suspended indefinitely. The district's business manager, Maximus C. Beans, has floated a deal to sell the buses to a school in Baltimore. Beans told The Morning's morning reporter, Sonny Day, "We had to let the buses go cheap. We need the money for the pool!" The district's accounting firm, Stickum & Howe, determined that a whopping eighty percent of kids live within walking distance. Only twenty percent of students reside beyond the walkable area. I'm not sure why the local paper is so interested; it's not that big of a news splash. And, when you think about it, none of those kids are on the swim team, anyhow. So, they don't really count for a hill of beans," Beans said.
IT'S A CINCH IF YOU WEAR A BELT
Any School USA has announced its one-size-fits-all mandatory uniform policy. All boys and girls will receive black slacks and white Marco Polo shirts on Friday. The slacks all have a waistline of thirty-three and inseam of thirty-two. Marco Polo shirts are only available in extra large. Any School USA business manager, Maximus C. Beans. said, "We get along swimmingly with a neighboring district and pooled our buying power at Pennys & Nickel’s Department Store. What a deal!!!"
SCHOOL BUDGET PLUNGES TWENTY PERCENT OF KIDS IN ICE
Any School USA confirmed to The Morning overnight that heat is being cut to twenty percent of its classrooms this winter. But not to worry, said business manager Maximus C. Beans, "The thermostat will stay set in the comfort zone for the other eighty percent of students and teachers. So it's not a big deal, NOT a Big deal at all! A lot of those classrooms are nearly empty because we have students who are too lazy to walk the seventeen miles to school."
FITTOBETIED AND MITZ GO OFF THE DEEP END
James Olson, a stringer for The Morning's parent company the Daily Planet, was on hand at last night School Board meeting. Mr. I.M. Fittobetied and his wife Ima, who have three school-aged children, said during the public comment period, "We are just fit-to-be-tied!" They accused school board president and former All-State swimming champion, Spark Mitz, of denying twenty percent of students the very basics to serve his own agenda. "You only care about yourself," Mrs. Fittobetied angrily told Mitz.
Mitz hollered above the crowd, "THAT'S NOT TRUE, I CARE ABOUT EIGHTY PERCENT OF OUR KIDS—AND—I CARE ABOUT THEM ALL OF THE TIME!"
The Morning Herald has cranked up its presses for a special weekend edition, and the headline reads:
A LEAK IN THE KITCHEN
Citizens are in an uproar over rumors of another budget cut at Any School USA. According to a leak in the kitchen, Any School USA is cutting out lunch for twenty percent of students.
Mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent of the Morning's parent company, The Daily Planet out of Metropolis, is on loan to the Morning for the rest of the afternoon. He tracked down Super Duper and Maximus C. Beans who are enjoying a round of sausage and eggs at the Four Seasonings Restaurant before joining Misters Stickum and Howe for their weekly meeting on the links.
"Okay, it's true about lunch," Super Duper told Mr. Kent while pausing at breakfast. “But it's not a big deal. Nobody is going without lunch except for the kids that don't matter. We figure that about twenty percent of the student body has a bad attitude, the country kids don't walk fast enough to show up for the eight o'clock starting bell, and when they do they are wearing ill-fitting uniforms that show no school pride. I hate to say it, Mr. Kent, but we have a bunch of crybaby-whiney-hiney students who do nothing but complain, complain, complain! They bellyache about everything from not being able to see the blackboard without their glasses to software malfunctions, schools furnishings, AND even delightfully brisk and frosty classrooms during the colder months! These same kids get the worst grades in the school, and quite frankly are a truancy issue! We'd be way better off if these students just dropped out!"
Cutting school lunch to the underperforming twenty percent of the student body is a move Super Duper, Beans, as well as Misters Stickum and Howe all agreed, "Will not only save money but just might be the motivation these kids need to do better."
Reporter Clark Kent is expected to call with an update to the Morning's editor, Jack Justice, at any moment. The mild-mannered reporter was last seen in the phone booth at the Four Seasonings.
Two reporters are on loan from the Daily for the morning with a special investigative report, headline reads:
TWENTY PERCENT OF STUDENTS CAN’T READ AT GRADE LEVEL
Byline with Clark Kent & Lois Lane
If it is true that reading and writing is integral to a fulfilling and happy life, then Any School USA is falling down on the job with statistics out this morning that 20% of students are experiencing academic neglect. The Morning Herald is reporting that 1-in-5 students at Any School USA have their abilities impeded in the area of basic reading and writing by a systemic failure to provide a time-tested curriculum and expert instructional models that are best suited to their unique style of learning. These same children, often called "Pros" (a shortened version of Difstypro or Different Style of Processing) have minds well suited for occupations in the fields of science, engineering, entertainment, and business. Some of them will work in the area of counterintelligence, others may be a good fit for important positions with NASA, and many more will be the gritty risk-takers that build and manage companies that deliver innovation and problem solving to society.
Any School USA officials, board members, parents, teachers, and the responsible social collective (everyone) that makes up the citizenry of the district, seem focused on other matters and entirely unaware of the very basic needs of the "Pro" students. Moreover, locals fail to grasp the consequences of academic neglect, both personally for the student and as a whole for the good of civilization.
WHOSE FAULT IS IT, ANYWAY?
For as silly as the stories in the previous section are, there are none more ridiculous than the last one that speaks to academic neglect, yet there are still places in America where the reality of academic neglect is one hundred percent true. At those schools, kids are denied the most basic of educational components, i.e., the highly necessary skills of reading and writing. There are places in America where that denial happens every day.
Somebody has to be at fault! Who do we blame?
Let's start with ME! It's MY fault!
It's true that I don't sleep as well as I should. At the same time, it's also true that I sleep better than I should. The fact that any of us can sleep at night knowing there are kids in America who are not being taught to read and write is unconscionable.
I, me, we, you too, as members of society must hold ourselves accountable for denying children their one-and-only shot at The American Dream. It’s a nightmare that we are visiting on too many kids.
When I say "we" I am very serious in including ME, as well as you, the guy next door, the lady down the street, Uncle Jim, the president, Dave Letterman, John Smith, the garbage man, the guy in the elevator, the Backstreet Boys, Flo, Mayor Jones, Congress, that guy that writes the column about gardening, Dale, the weatherman on 9 News At Noon, your chiropractor, and every last one of us; because we are society.
Isn't the greatest responsibility of every generation to educate the next?
We are doing a great job of educating some kids and a terrible job of educating others. Why?
But Isn’t This America
So the question now becomes: Isn't America the place where we are all equal and treated as such?
The answer is a big "NO!"
We are, very often, not equal unless we stand up and demand equality.
Indulge me, if you will, as I expound upon just two of hundreds, maybe thousands of examples where "created equal" meant anything but, until collective voices found the courage to stand up and demand equality.
On August 18, 1920, American politicians came to their senses after women stood up, stood together, and said "Enough!" Only then were women "given the right" to vote. It took until 1920, just forty-three years before I was born. Really?
During my grandmother's lifetime, she received notification that she was American enough to pay taxes on her earnings, but not American enough to cast a ballot.
It would take until the late 1960s to pass a law abandoning the idea that Americans with darker pigmented skin should be relegated to the back of city buses, regardless of the fact that they paid full fare like everyone else. Really? Over the amount of pigment in their skin?
My personal experience has taught me that when facing ignorance, I am anything but equal until I harness the power of my American Voice.
Is it time to harness our collective voice? Is the next call to action a cry for the basic right to learn to read and write?
THE REALITY OF LAWS MEANT TO GUARANTEE EDUCATION
Let's look at the problem of educating difstypro kids. Before we do, we should revisit a few lines from Reporter Alice Philipson's 2014 newspaper article in London's Daily Telegraph.
In essence, Ms. Philipson wrote of how British Intelligence Agencies rely on neurodiverse minds to boil down complex information in a "dispassionate, logical and analytical" way to combat threats such as terrorism.
It is a fabulous article that aids in making my point about just how valuable difstypro minds are in the art problem-solving, simplifying complex situations and seeing what others have missed.
There are many schools of thought on problem-solving, and many problems are so big that they receive a size classification.
The challenge of educating Difstypro kids is a mega problem caused by ignorance. The complexity of the problem is so large that problem sub-categories are required. When I hear "problem" and "problem subcategories" in the same sentence, I think of the game Wac-A-Mole. While you're busy getting a handle on one problem, another rears its ugly head.
If the President of the United States and half of Congress were Difstypro, we would deal with the education problem and its subcategories from the top down and probably resolve the problem one hundred percent. The solution would have solution sub-categories, and the moles would be running for the exits.
Since the President and half of Congress aren't difstypro, we are working on the problem from the bottom up. Moms and dads, teachers, principals, school psychologists, and admins are sitting around a table one IEP meeting at a time taking a whack at moles. At the same time, the grassroots heroes and heroines of the Decoding Dyslexia movement are charging up the steps of all fifty state houses calling on local elected official to enact legislation.
Then we have the Supreme Court who jumped to our side of the fence in a precedent-setting vote of eight to zero in our favor. They ruled that schools must provide students with an education that is "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances."
That's All Great, Right?
There's only one problem, and it is the same problem we've had all along: without funding for programs and enforcement, we are still playing Whac-A-Mole.
Does the law have teeth? Well, yes, but the dyslexia cops aren't coming out to arrest anyone. As always, parents and even students themselves will be the cops vis-à-vis lawyers advocating for children in the courts. If these cases generate damages, attorneys will take them on contingency, and school bus chasing will become as prevalent as ambulance chasing, and that's fine by me if that is what it takes to get the job done.
Back to the rub, or should I say WHACK?
Without the necessary funding, for programs themselves, from Federal and States resources, school districts and local taxpayers are going to be left holding the bag. Affluent school districts will absorb the cost of adhering to the law with minimal upset from a well-heeled tax base. However, in lower middle-class and impoverished districts, folks will have to choose between shoes, food, heat and paying their property taxes. It's not fair. Every kid in America should have equal access to a great public school and gifted teachers who know how to open hearts and minds.
Seven Pieces Good News Less The Sugar
It goes without saying that no one will ever love you like your parents. With that understanding, this following seven pieces of “good news” are geared toward parents. It’s a bit hard-hitting, but I feel it has to be said and without sugar coating.
1.) Problem solving
7.) Decoding Dyslexia!!
1.) Problem Solving—Stop the Bleeding:
Yes, the overall problem is so big that it is not completely solvable anytime soon. However, I feel confident that difstypro minds will someday enjoy the same accommodations that were finally afforded to left-handers.
For now, we must observe the first rule of problem-solving: “Stop the Bleeding.” In this case, time is blood, and the clock is ticking on your kid's education. Moreover, the clock is ticking on your kid's self-esteem and shot at the future. Time is of the essence.
You know how everyone always says, “The first thing you have to do is 'this' or 'that?'” I even said the “first rule” of problem-solving is to stop the bleeding— and it is—but to stop the bleeding, in this case, you may have to perform steps one through seven simultaneously and immediately.
“WHAT?” you say? “But Brons, I barely have time to sleep! I'm already working two jobs and can barely make ends meet!
Look, I hear you, but I'm going to be very candid with you. The fact that you care for your offspring more than anyone else ever could, or will, is a given. That love (dedication) is your child's advocacy ace-in-the-hole.
The clock is ticking. Your kid's shot at the future is bleeding out in front of you, and your advocacy is the tourniquet. Finding the time, money, and courage to act is paramount. Every school day that passes is one day closer to your kid's only chance at an education going down the tubes.
You know how I said there are seven pieces of good news? The good news is for your kids; they have you.
You're it, Mom and Dad. If you are an average American family, you're probably not in the best position to replace the water heater if it dies, let alone being able to afford professional advocacy. Not only are you your kid's advocate, but you are also the most qualified person for the job because you have skin in the game. Join local parent organizations, study the law and know your legal rights. Be resolute in your convictions. By all means, don't burn down the school, but also don't be quick to take “no” for an answer, especially when you know your rights are being violated. The law is on your side, but only when you know the law.
Kyle Redford, the education editor at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, wrote in a 2014 article, "Assistive technologies can play a critical supportive role in preventing the cycle of academic despair and failure triggered by weak mechanics. Because of the ever-evolving technologies designed to support students who struggle with reading and writing, there has never been a better time to be a student with dyslexia. It is exciting to witness the landscape of assistive tech possibilities constantly expanding and improving." WOW! Now there some good news!
Some old-school admins and teachers and even parents are still reluctant to embrace technology. Over and over we hear statements born of ignorance such as, "Technology is an unfair advantage for kids with dyslexia," and, "We want them to think for themselves."
As my father tried to demonstrate to Mr. Varner in the mid-1970s, technology is not a sign of End-Times, nor is it a monster that has come to eat the brains of children. Take it from a kid who should have finished at least somewhere in the middle of my class instead of dead last. Technology is a very, very good thing for neurodiverse minds. With that said, buy a Chromebook with your own money (very affordable) if you must and start your kid on game-changing technology right away if you haven't already. Sure, the school should buy it, but while you are all arguing about a couple of hundred dollars—tick-tock, tick-tock—your kid is careening toward adulthood.
If the school is not living up to the law and you can't afford a private school that specializes in educating difstypro/dyslexic kids or an attorney to argue in the courts, take it upon yourself to find an Orton-Gillingham tutor. Or better yet, become a trained tutor. Moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas make excellent tutors, and it can be an extra income stream for your family. You may even want to start a for-profit or non-profit reading center in your community. Speaking of workarounds ...
Remember the swollen knuckles of our leftie-allies who were forced to hold a pencil in a way that was counterintuitive to their brain-type?. Just because someone says “something” does not a “fact” make. For centuries, lefties were cursed by ignorance, religious dogma, and fear, but society eventually worked around that problem with inventions as simple as left-handed scissors and desks.
The workaround is a mainstay in the art of problem-solving. I encourage you to question everything you know, think you know, or have ever heard about dyslexia. At one point or another in my life, I've wrestled with many of the aspects of my relationship with dyslexia as it relates to ignorance and have dismissed ninety percent of what others have told me about my situation. Figure out what works for you and your kid by questioning everything and everybody, including me.
7.) Decoding Dyslexia:
AN UNREASONABLE "NO" MIGHT BE A FLOODGATE
Denial of support services, like everything else in our world, is almost always tied to purse strings.
For the most part, difstypro/dyslexic kids look, talk, walk and quack like a "normal" kid. To look at them, one would never know they have an academic headache, which is the biggest reason why they have an academic headache!
Several years ago, a local newspaper did a terrific job covering the story of a single mom whose little girl needed reading remediation. Mom requested an Orton-Gillingham based curriculum. The school district repeatedly denied the request but offered a few alternatives such as fewer spelling and vocabulary words and more time to take tests. The mom continued with her polite insistence on a proper curriculum based on Orton-Gillingham, but the school district wasn't moving beyond their initial denial. Considering the cost/benefit of providing these services, it seemed like mom's request was reasonable in providing an appropriate education for her daughter.
The week following the negotiations, the school board (in a five to four vote) approved a contract to tear up the football field and install artificial turf. The price tag was somewhere north of one million dollars.
A charming and influential gentleman with an admitted agenda had recently won a seat on the school board. His two sons played football, and he was able to whip the necessary votes for a revamp of the field that hosted six home games a year. The father/school board member was very forthcoming in his thoughts that a football scholarship would be a free ride for his sons to get a college education; as it turns out, he he was right.
The mom and little girl finally had their day in court that went on for months.
A local philanthropist stepped up as the cavalry and quietly funded enforcement (via a civil suit) and mom/daughter prevailed. The school district appealed, and the little girl prevailed again.
So why would the school district shell out one hundred thousand dollars on legal fees when what the mom was asking for was minuscule in comparison?
Recognizing Floodgate Moments
In 1999, I received a call from a very skilled advocate friend, Joan, who asked if I could stand in for her at a school meeting and advocate for a grandma who was raising her partially paralyzed grandson. Joan couldn't make it because of a mandatory meeting at work. I had doubts about my skills as an advocate, but Joan said, "It's a no-brainer. You'll be in and out in under an hour."
I met the grandma at the school along with three representatives from the district office. The issue at hand was the fact that every time the school bus made a turn the little boy fell out of his seat because his paralysis robbed him of the strength to hold himself upright. The solution seemed simple: an assigned seat at the front of the bus with a seatbelt. Easy enough, right? Wrong.
The seatbelt cost in 1999 was $200 including installation.
The answer from school admins was a very firm "No."
I was bewildered by the indignant tone of the no, and completely stymied by the fact that it came out of the mouth of the director of special education, a Ph.D. and mom of two small children. Moreover, she was a personal friend who I knew as a very kind and caring person.
"No? Really? But the little guy falls out of his seat. You realize he's going to get hurt?" I asked.
"I'm sorry, Brons, we can't do it."
I felt the Rottweiler boiling up in me. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this wasn't the time to call on my “lessons” from Mom. What would Dad do?
I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts and said, "Look, folks, I can scrape together $200 to buy the seatbelt and have my friend, Joe Barnes from Barnes Body Shop, install it. Consider it a donation. Fair enough?"
Who could argue with that? Right?
"I'm sorry, Brons, we can't do it."
"What? Why? I need a reason."
"He could use the seatbelt as a weapon," they told me.
"What? He's eight and partially paralyzed!" I said while trying to keep the leash on the Rottweiler.
I turned to Grandma. "Does he get violent?"
She shook her head and said, "Never!"
The elderly woman started to cry. I requested a fifteen-minute break.
Grandma sat on a bench in the lobby and calmed herself.
I couldn't call Dad for coaching as he was very ill with cancer. I was on my own and feeling quite inadequate.
I stood outside the building in the cool breeze of autumn and heard the voices of everyone who ever doubted and criticized me. No voice was louder or clearer than my own.
"What am I doing here? These people are educated, and I'm not. They're probably in there laughing at me. Why in the world did Joan think I was capable of advocating for this little boy? I'm such a knucklehead; I can't even win an argument to spend my own money on a seatbelt for a partially paralyzed kid."
Then I heard another the voice in my head—the voice of my coach.
"You went in without a plan B, didn't you? You never expected them to say no to a couple of hundred dollars for a seatbelt that would keep a little boy from falling out of his seat. You have five minutes left to reevaluate their motivation for saying no and come up with a plan B."
Then it hit me! When admins don't do the right thing in education, it's almost always money driven. When it came to money there was only one person who made all the decisions in this particular district; he was still superintendent after thirty years. The super was a brilliant tactician and even more ruthless than Charlie the Millionaire. He would have excelled as the CEO of a major bank, a car manufacturer, or a big oil company.
Seatbelts in school buses have always been controversial. Many think it's a good idea that has never come to fruition because of the expense. I quickly did the math in my head.
"Let see, there are roughly 3500 students in this district. Two hundred dollars for a seat belt and installation is Seventy Thousand Dollars! It's a money thing! I bet they’re afraid one seat belt will turn into 3500 seat belts!”
The reason for the indignant "No" suddenly became obvious. If the other side could get me to lose my cool and pound the table, I'd look like a raving lunatic and have all the blame pinned on me for the failed negotiations.
I Needed a Cop On My Side And Knew A Guy From The LAPD
I gathered Grandma, and we went back inside with a plan B; my impersonation of one of my idols, actor Peter Falk as the bumbling Lieutenant “just one more thing” Columbo of the LAPD. A video clip for those of a younger generation of TV watchers:
Channeling Frank Columbo, less the smelly cigar, I politely said to the other side, "Ya know this thing of getting just one seat belt for one little boy seems so hard that I feel like I must not be ready for advocacy work. Let's just call it a day because I’m not helping this lady and her grandson, I think it’s obvious that I’m in way over my head.”
The other side gave the victory nod for themselves while acknowledging their pity for me as an unskilled advocate who had been on the verge of pounding the table.
I swallowed their pity, my pride, thanked them, and then turned up the dial further on Lieutenant Columbo. Obviously defeated, I hung my head and said, “I think good could maybe come of my failure here today and re-spark an important discussion. I’ll make a few calls and see if the more experienced parents and advocates from the Seatbelts-For-All-Camp could use this young man as a good example of why seatbelts are needed in buses. I’m just not qualified to make this argument.”
The special-ed director requested a five-minute recess while she made a phone call.
A seat belt equipped van picked up the young man exclusively in the morning and returned him home every afternoon.
The request for one seatbelt sparked the fear of opening a floodgate. The district was afraid that buying or doing something new for one kid would breach the dam and set a precedent. I do not take credit for this victory as it was Lt. Columbo who hit it out of the park!
MAYBE YOUR KID KNOWS THE SOLUTION TO THEIR SITUATION
In my first book, I talked about the fact that as a student I was very aware of the solution to my academic struggles but at the same time felt that if I used these strategies I would be a cheater. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Excerpted From The Memoir Most Unlikely To Succeed
Even though the sixth grade was still considered elementary school, my class was bused to East Juniata Junior/Senior High because McAlisterville Elementary was out of space.
A regular-sized classroom at the high school was originally designed to accommodate about thirty students. However, our sixth-grade class comprised fifty-five. To create two manageable groups of about
twenty-some students, our single, cramped classroom was divided in half, right down the center, with a thick wooden accordion door.
On each side of the big wooden curtain was a teacher. The teachers divided up the subjects to be taught, and the sixth-graders rotated for lessons between the two.
On one side of the divider was the desk and classroom of the young, vivacious Mrs. Eyler. I knew from the very first second I met her that she was special. She had a genuine smile and bubbled with enthusiasm. Mrs. Eyler was a breath of fresh air. We had chemistry; she had chemistry with the whole class.
It wasn’t enough to instruct her students; she wanted to know the details of our lives, in and out of school.
She wanted to know what made us tick so she could better reach us.
Every morning when I walked into her class she made it a point to say hello to me. I liked that. I replied, “Good morning, Mrs. Eyler,” and smiled as I took my seat.
I made up my mind that I was going to give up my “bad kid” persona and try with everything I had to please Mrs. Eyler.
On the other side of the divider was Miss Hood, who was starkly different from Mrs. Eyler in her attitude and teaching style. I guess the best way to describe her is to say that she was not Mrs. Eyler.
Miss Hood was sour and always seemed to be in a bad mood. I couldn’t figure out why she put in all those years at college only to take a job she seemingly hated. She was in a bad mood before she ever got to school in the morning — and it only got worse as the day went on.
Miss Hood and I did not share any chemistry. She took a disliking to me from the start, and the feelings were mutual.
Even though I’d decided to give it my all in Mrs. Eyler’s class, I still got failing grades. Mrs. Eyler was a very verbal teacher, so I was able to retain information from classroom discussions. I participated and even raised my hand to answer questions, but when it came time to take a test or a quiz, I did poorly. And I never did homework, because I couldn’t read and write well enough to understand the assignments.
One day, Mrs. Eyler pulled me aside and asked quietly, so the other students wouldn’t hear, “Brons, will you stay in from recess so we can talk?” She had just given a quiz that morning, and the paper I handed in, as usual, was filled with illegible chicken scratch.
“Of course I’ll stay in if you need me to,” I said.
Mrs. Eyler could have asked me to jump off a bridge and I would have said, “Sure, of course. I’d be glad to.”
I sat in a chair beside her desk, and she gave me the same quiz again, this time orally. I got every answer correct.
She looked at me and said, “Brons you’re very, very smart. Why is it so hard to take tests and quizzes and do homework?”
“It’s easy to talk and listen, but it’s hard to read and write,” I told her. She sat at her desk looking puzzled. “You can go outside and play with the others now if you want.”
It felt so good to hear Mrs. Eyler tell me that she thought I was smart. I was happy that at least one teacher thought so, but I tempered her comments about being smart with the fact that I only got the answers on the quiz correct by listening and talking. It seemed like the easy way out. And people always talked about the easy way out being a bad thing. To be able to read a book was hard work and struggle.
Try hard, work hard, study hard. Hard, hard, hard. Everything about school was supposed to be hard, or it wasn’t real learning. Listening, remembering, and talking came easily for me, so that must be wrong, it all must be cheating, I thought.
But it was obvious that Mrs. Eyler could see my struggle and was trying to figure it out. No other teacher had ever given me an oral test. Simply by giving me my quiz orally, Mrs. Eyler was a teacher years ahead of her time, working in a school district that was years behind the times and allocated little, if any, resources to help kids like me. She must have been as frustrated as I was. She had no one to turn to for aid in helping me.
No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t making progress. I rode the bus home after school every day and went straight to my room and locked the door. I dove onto my bed and took deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. I had always refused to let anyone see me cry, but in the privacy of my room the tears came easily. I just wanted to be like everyone else. Why did school have to be so hard? I continued to agonize over my future. I buried my face in my pillow to muffle the sounds of my sobbing.
IF NOT US, THEN WHO?
According to the Davis Dyslexia Association, the following well-known individuals are or were "Dyslexic Achievers."
Billy Bob Thornton, Danny Glover, Harry Anderson, Henry Winkler, Jay Leno, Jennifer Aniston, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Keira Knightley, Loretta Young, Oliver Reed, Orlando Bloom, Susan Hampshire, Tom Smothers, Vince Vaughn, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob May, Diamond Dallas Page, Greg Louganis, Jackie Stewart, Meryl Davis, Mohammad Ali, Caitlin Jenner, Duncan Goodhew, Magic Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Rex Ryan, Steve Redgrave, Charles Schwab, Craig McCaw, David Neeleman, Gary Cohn, Henry Ford, Ingvar Kamprad, John T Chambers, Kevin O’Leary, O.D. McKee, Paul J. Orfalea, Sir Richard Branson, Robert Woodruff, Sir Peter Leitch, Ted Turner, William Hewlett, Christopher Lowell, Henry Franks, James Lovelock, John Britten, Jørn Utzon, Ky Michealson, Paul MacCready, Thomas Edison, Tommy Hilfiger, David Boies, Erin Brockovich, Jeffrey H. Gallet, Andrew Jackson, Dan Malloy, Erna Solberg, Gavin Newsom, George Patton, George Washington, King Carl XVI Gustaf, Nelson Rockefeller, Paul Wellstone, Woodrow Wilson, Aakash Odedra, Bob Weir, Brad Little, Cher, Harry Belafonte, John Lennon, Nigel Kennedy, Carol Greider, Fred Epstein, Nelson 'Brons' Lauver, Harvey Cushing, Peter Lovatt, Albert Einstein, Ann Bancroft, Archer J.P. Martin, Jack Horner, Matthew H. Schneps, Michael Faraday, Pierre Curie, Ansel Adams, David Bailey, Nicole Betancourt, Robert Benton, Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney, Andy Warhol, Auguste Rodin, Bennett Strahan, Chuck Close, Ian Marley, Ignacio Gomez, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Toth, Willard Wigan, Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Daniels Squire, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fannie Flagg, Gustave Flaubert, Jane Elson, John Corrigan, Natasha Solomons, Stephen Cannell, Terry Goodkind, Victor Villaseñor, Anja Dembina, Byron Pitts, Richard Engel, Scott Adams, Amber Lee Dodd, Avi, Hans Christian Andersen, Jeanne Betancourt, Patricia Polacco, Sally Gardner, Andrew Dornenburg, Bernie Taylor, Charley Boorman, Eileen Simpson, John Edmund Delezen, Larry Chambers, Philip Schultz and William Butler Yeats.
I'm sure we have missed quite a few names, but if you are difstypro/dyslexic we need you in this fight for awareness. The world needs you to talk about who and what you are. Tell the story of your journey as a person with a difstypro/dyslexic mind. Talk about the challenges that have been thrown at you and tell of your personal triumphs. We don't all have to agree on what works or doesn't work! What matters is that individually and collectively we use our stories to go back into the shadow and bring others to the light of understanding that they were never the "dumb kid." Let's roll up our sleeves and do what we do best: find solutions. And by all means, let's keep the kids of our tribe out of the jaws of alligators.
No one knows how to do this better than we do.
Seriously, if not us, then who?