Posted by: minnow | August 21, 2010

Teach Me Smarter

Having navigated the public school system with four (three diagnosed) dyslexic children I am looking forward, cautiously, to our fifth child’s introduction to school.  To my ability to assess, she is decidedly not dyslexic, though I know many children are able to compensate amazingly well–for a long time.  I hope it will be fun to see the “system” work for a change, educate for a change, meet my daughter’s needs and teach to her strengths.

At the same time I am highly aware of the fact that in my daughter’s classroom some children will begin their journeys with the same excitement and joy I see in my daughter only to face years and years of confusion, frustration, tears, and defeats.  Teachers will not know what to do with them and label them slow or high energy (Code for undiagnosed ADHD) in their reports.  Some will be thrown into the resource programs and from there be labeled by their peers who avoid the resource stigma with other names even more hurtful than slow.

My own crew eventually opted to bow out of the resource system and struggled to make sense of “regular” classrooms.  The oldest (undiagnosed) was homeschooled until high school.  If it were not for sports (particularly wrestling) he might not have done too well in classes but needed to maintain a C for his coach.  The coach was an amazing man with a heart for kids on the brink, who at times held mandatory study “practices” to help those kids at risk.  We were lucky I know the stories of coaches pressuring teachers to “pass” their star players instead of educate them.  Our second son spent an “exorbitant amount of time doing art” and “wasted time doodling” instead of taking notes, at least according to his history teacher who must not have read or simply dismissed my son’s IEP records.  He was homeschooled until 8th grade and lasted one semester in a freshman resource class.  The third, our most severely dyslexic, was in public school from the fifth grade through most of his sophomore year in high school.  Unlike his brothers he is not particularly sports oriented.  But he likes to dance and his artistic eye comes out in theatrical design.  His stint with resource lasted through middle school.  Finally my daughter entered public school as a third grader.  She was immediately placed in the resource program and remained its captive until we pulled her out just as she entered high school.  We homeschooled for a semester but then she decided the group activities were worth the other stressors.  Woods, band, and drama are her favorite class, but she does okay in science and English as well.  The more hands-on the better!  (You can read more about their stories here and here or click on the education category below).

I tell my children’s histories because I think they help me to make the point of this post: Intelligence comes in many forms and lots of “disability” is actually a lesser verbal-linguistic intelligence with a higher intelligence somewhere else.  (For a quick summary of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence and a description of each way in which we can be intelligent click on the MI tab in the header).  For example, using the information in my children’s history and from the tab I can say my children are smarter musically, bodily-kinestetically, visual-spacially, and interpersonally than they are verbal-linguistically.  The other intelligences can show up in the classroom in multiple ways.  A child might doodle because it actually helps him to concentrate on what is said.  A student can be easily distracted or day-dream because she finds something else more interesting than what is being said.  Or, they might simply be unable to “sit still” because they process best through movement.

When the “other intelligences” are punished because they do not fit with the intelligence the teacher values or teaches toward these SMART kids begin to feel out-of-place.  They know, at least at some level, they are smart and they want to learn but their methods of learning are not often valued or utilized by the people teaching them.  Sadly, most “resource” help is simply a lot of repetition at a slower rate (AKA boring).  Once children reach middle school and high school the resource help is also way too often punitive and demoralizing.  Is it any wonder so many of our happy, active, curious five, six, and seven-year olds become depressed, angry, and hostile teens?

TRUE STORY: My severely dyslexic cousin, when he was just 7 found himself in a military school in Viet Nam where his father was stationed during the war.  He was so frustrated at being unable to learn he tried to burn down the school.  Needless to say this did not go over well.  Fortunately for him my grandmother, a librarian, read a tiny article in the back of a teacher’s magazine about this “new” learning disability called Dyslexia.  This was in the late 60’s.  My uncle was allowed to move his family stateside and they ended up in Florida near the McGlannon school for dyslexic kids.  While my cousin still had a delinquent label in his school records he was able to get some “state of the art” (at the time) help with learning.

Our children deserve better.  The US education system is in shambles.  The gap between the able to learn within the system and the marginalized by the system is getting wider with fewer and fewer in the able to learn category.  I realize of course our problems do not all have to do with the issue at hand.  However, our ongoing unwillingness to teach in the ways that all children learn is not helping.  We must start valuing education both with our pocketbooks (primarily to higher more educators and reduce classroom size) and our creativity!


  1. this sentence just about broke my heart:

    “At the same time I am highly aware of the fact that in my daughter’s classroom some children will begin their journeys with the same excitement and joy I see in my daughter only to face years and years of confusion, frustration, tears, and defeats.”

    as raymond starts preschool for the first time this year — i just can’t imagine going from all this excitement!! to then discouragement/disappointment and the stress/pressure to thrive in school the way “they” require… our poor kiddos – pray they have loving parents like you!

  2. […] Minnow Speaks – Navigating the educational system when you have children with special needs […]

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