As I watched HBO’s Journey into Dyslexia last night, the documentary emphasized the struggle for the dyslexic person in the education system. The education system was described as having chosen a narrow band of learning in life into which the dyslexic student is expected to enter, and the main way through which he or she can achieve success, or failure. In the documentary, each dyslexic person interviewed had difficulty fitting into the education system. Most of them had emotional scars from this experience. It was heart breaking to hear their stories.
The documentary brought to mind my frustration, as a parent of two dyslexic children, with the education system. Often I struggle with knowing how best my children can survive their time within education and emerge from it as successful and unscarred. My underlying assumption, sadly, is that they are never going to be truly successful. I try to help make the system work for them, but success within it relies too heavily on being able to read and write.
I’ve found that most dyslexic students are offered slower-paced classes, because they don’t read and write with the same fluidity as other students. Slower-paced classes mean that less content is covered. Dyslexic students do not have a problem with understanding content. The problem is being able to access the content through reading and explain their understanding through writing. Slower-paced classes are not an answer to the problem. Slower-paced classes are an insult to their intelligence.
Dyslexic students are offered reduced curriculum. They are provided with textbooks that are easier to read, but that are also below grade level. Consequently, the content is less challenging. This also is an insult to their intelligence.
Dyslexic students are offered reading, and speech and language services in place of other classes. Often in middle and high school they have to miss out on particular subjects or electives in order to have these services. The classes from which they are excluded are likely to be subjects in which they could excel, given the right teaching. The lack of variety of subjects is an insult to their intelligence. Instead, they have to spend more time on reading and writing in which they are never going to be able to succeed.
All of this is frustrating and it is not an education.
So, what can the dyslexic student do to overcome this? They have to be encouraged to struggle through the current education system or they succeed by going around the education system, and excelling outside of the traditional academic environment.
Having said all this, some credit must be given. Understanding of dyslexia within the education system has improved. At one point, and this was apparent in the documentary but I also know this from experience, dyslexic students were not diagnosed, and instead were told to give up at school, to leave, or seated at the back of the class. There was little hope for them within the education system. Today, the understanding is better. Dyslexia is diagnosed within the education system and help is given with reading and writing. However, there is still an awful long way to go in changing the education system to allow people with dyslexia to be successful. My feeling is that those with dyslexia are the ones who are able to identify areas of change needed within the education system because they are the ones who can think outside it.