Monday, January 30, 2012

The Dyslexic Advantage, Part 2

[my apologies for not writing sooner--my excuse is that I had an eye operation. I'm better now.]

My emotions are all confused and I laugh at times and I cry at times.  I can report that while having breakfast at a restaurant and reading The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock Eide and Fernette Eide, both MDs, I find it hard to cry when reading an important point in this book that has in the past effected me.  You just don't cry in a public restaurant.  

But this is a powerful book.  Based on it alone I think we need to make major changes in our education systems.  What I am finding is that I am not alone.  There are many people who have dyslexia and have become successful people in our society.  Indeed, some have done quite well if what the authors Eides have written.  But there are many who struggle with the problem and wonder why they are so dumb.  Of course, they are not but given our school systems, too many teachers do not recognize those that may and have dyslexia.  But there is nope in this textbook.

I am making a formal request to my old Woodring College of Education that every faculty member be given  a copy of this book.  I doubt if I could expect all to read it but enough will and I believe will see that the education system needs to be changed.   I also think that ALL teachers, from kindergarten to twelfth
 grade be required reading.

I have bought both the Kindle edition and a hard copy edition.  Easier to take notes on the hard copy


As you recall I was teaching in a grade school when I realized that I had dyslexia.  It certainly explained why I had so many problems in school while I was growing up. Interestingly enough I find that other people have used the same "coping" mechanisms that I always be polite to the teacher and look like you are trying your best.  Make your work neat.  Never turn in something scribbled.  And participate in class discussions.  Actually I think that became one of my fortes in high school was class discussions.  When you do all of these things then when your test doesn't measure up, the teacher comments that you are just a bad test taker.  Boy, were they correct.  Still, in spite of my problems in school I graduated from high school in the upper ranks of my class.  How come?

I took a lot of music and art and civics.  I stayed away from classes that had a lot of rote memory such as chemistry, mathematics and history.  I could never remember dates or names.  You see, dyslexic students by and large have a terrible memory for data.  Ask me the capitals of the states and I would flunk. But ask me about the western movement and I could go on for days explaining how our country was developed and how technology helped improved it.

According to the Eides there are two types of memory, data or facts and episodic    In my case it is indeed true that I can recite whole folk tales but if you ask me when it was written and by who, I couldn't tell you.    Most dyslexics have episodic  or declarative memory.  The facts are embedded in the telling.

The Eides tell of a young woman who wanted to be a geologist but she had a very difficult time in high school and in college.  She managed by sheer effort to graduate and to get a position with an oil company.  From there is was all success as she was able to look at the terrain, rocks and sub-soils and predict with great accuracy where the oil and gas would be located.  Her method in doing this was to recreate how the land had been formed, episodic if you will.  But she could not look at the data and make predictions from mere numbers.

One of the factors that has affected me in the reading of this book is that dyslexic people "see things in their head."  My oh my, that was scary when I read that but it is true I can visualize and predict.  

I've already told you that when I was working on my doctorate at the University of Washington I was given the task of playing with an IBM 360-40 computer that they put in my office.  Well, they put the teletype that connected to that computer.  That teletype became one of the most important episodes in my life.  From that moment on I knew that computers would become a powerful force in education.  My whole career has been centered on that epic moment.  I use to say that my predictions were intuition but I now realize that my brain was already looking at scenes  that contained computers.  

There were many problems I had during my time in studying for my doctorate.  Of course they want you to write in all your classes and I was a poor writer.  I have gotten better but i still consider myself a poor writer although I am considering writing a novel.  We'll see.  But in those classes where thinking outside the box was considered valuable, I did fairly well.  It was interesting that I did well in philosophy of education.  I couldn't write it but I could articulate it.  I could see where decisions in educational policy could affect the system and I speak to those points.  So like most dyslexic people I had strong point and weak points.  On the weak points, i coped.  That is what most dyslexic students do, cope.  Find ways to get around or how to dazzle so that the other person doesn't see your faults.  Or to hide in a group.  

One thing that I noticed in this book on Dyslexia and that I have read in other books on the same subject is that dyslexic people know they are smart but they are not sure how they are smart.  But many of us have this drive to succeed in spite of what the world thinks of us. 

In another book, I'm not sure which one, there is a story of a young boy growing up in the prairies of central Canada in a strict environment.  Everytime he missed an answer or got something wrong he was told to hold out his hand, palm up,  and it was hit with a ruler a number of times according to the wrong answer.  I remember the person telling the tale saying that at times he had calluses on the palms of his hands.  But in spite of the hits with a ruler over the years he consistently knew he was smart.  He just didn't know the material they way they wanted him to know it.  Rote memory and he wasn't good at that.  

The more I read in The Dyslexic Advantage the more I know that the policy of "No Child Left Behind" and the testing that went on within that program was doomed to failure.  There isn't a dyslexic kid out there that could pass one of those tests.  I'm not sure I could even now.  Those tests are based on data  which we can't fathom.  Our memory doesn't work that way.


I did promise to tell you how "I came out" and explained that I was dyslexic to the world.  I was teaching at Western Washington University in the Woodring School of Education--very new to the position and wet behind the ears so to speak.  But I remember in one of my Instructional Technology courses showing how machines can help students learn.  I forget now what machines I was working on, it could have been an early computer but I said something like, "Since I have dyslexia, learning from this machines is much easier and helpful to me."  It wasn't anything important, just emphasizing a point.   However it was at my next office hours that two students showed up, not to talk about technology in the classroom but about being a dyslexic.  Both wanted to know how I got "this far" and what could I tell them that would be helpful.  We talked for quite awhile and I believe that all three of us felt better after the discussion but I'm not sure I gave them any succinct help.  But a curious thing happened.  From time to time I would get a student in my office that wanted to know about how to cope with dyslexia.  Some of these students weren't even in my class.  Word had gotten around that there was this prof who understood being a dyslexic.

In fact word had gotten around far enough that a librarian in education contacted me and said she, too, was a dyslexic and she was quite delighted that I had let the student know about it.  So the two of us formed a bond of friendship on being dyslexic.  We sometimes sent a student to the other for further counseling or help.

There were sad times in all of this.  A young female student came to me in tears one day saying she was flunking a basic mathematics course--required.  I wrote some numbers down on sheet of paper and asked her what they were and she couldn't tell me.  She really couldn't see numbers.  She could read the story problem but she quite often got the numbers either backwards or mixed up.  I then attempted to get the Mathematics department to allow this student to have a reader and/or to use a calculator. The Mathematics department was against all attempts to deviate from the norm. Either she did it the same way as other students or she would fail.

She didn't fail.  She dropped out of college.  I think she was smart but she didn't have enough coping mechanism to know what to do in math.  I still have problems wondering how we should teach mathematics to students.  I believe irt is a major problem in our society.  I wonder what ever became of that young female student--did she succeed at something?  Did she always feel bad about herself?  

This is an intense subject for discussion.  Those without dyslexia need to study it as much as those that have the thinking problem.  But if I am to believe what the authors Eides have written, this world needs dyslexic people to see things as they might be.  These are our entrepreneurs of the future.  As President Kennedy once said, "I see things that are and say why.  But I see things that are not and say why not."  (paraphrased) 

My best to you all and to all those teachers who saw something in me besides problems I give my heartfelt thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Les,

    I thought you and your readers might be interested in this article that I read today in the New York Times, entitled, "The Upside of Dyslexia."

    You can find it at:

    Thanks for your heartfelt stories.

    How is your eye after the operation?