Earlier this week, I took part in an online conversation with someone about how badly many people misunderstand the mechanics behind reading and why many people flat out don’t want to read because it’s so difficult. I was thinking about various posts I’d come across where the person was saying that “dyslexia’s not an excuse”, “everyone should love reading” and “there’s no reason why anyone should be unable to read”.
I disagree and here’s why.
Dyslexia Isn’t an Excuse
My beef with this statement is that no two people with any sort of learning or developmental disability experiences the exact same severity or symptoms. Sure, I’m at the point where I can easily read and write most of the time, but that has absolutely no bearing on anyone else with dyslexia. There are plenty of people who can’t read or write well because their dyslexia is so much more severe than mine. Can you honestly blame someone for avoiding an activity that may give them terrible stress headaches?
The problem may simply lie in the fact they might not have had access to effective techniques yet or they may have an associated emotional block to reading. Judgementalism on anyone’s part will only further the problem, not make it better.
Everyone Should Love Reading
That statement is like saying everyone should love running, or arithmetic, or any other activity. I feel that reading shouldn’t be a traumatic event, but if it’s not your cup of tea, so be it. There are plenty of other ways of getting information, like documentaries, talking to people, prerecorded books and any number of things.
My husband, for example, hates reading books. He has no learning disability, and he’s highly intelligent, but he won’t sit down to read with me. He tends to find it boring, but he’ll watch documentaries, listen to radio shows and (usually) listen to me prattle on about something I’ve researched. Does that mean he’s less intelligent or can’t think creatively? Not at all! He just prefers to receive information differently.
That’s one of the beautiful things about humanity. We’re creative in our own ways because we think differently and pick up information uniquely.
There’s No Reason Why Someone Should Be Unable to Read
There should be no reason for lack of reading skills, but unfortunately, it’s not fact. This article from the Houston Chronicle talks about how badly dyslexia is misunderstood in some of their school districts and how hard it is for lower income folks to advocate well for their kids. Unfortunately, it takes time and money, neither of which most people under a certain income level have to spare.
There are some fantastic teachers out there and the vast majority of parents will do anything in their power to give their kids resources for a great education, but the bottom line is that many schools are failing their students, especially when it comes to inner cities. Let me make it clear: It’s not the teachers who aren’t helping kids as a whole; it’s the system under which they work.
I’m not talking about private schools, either, because there are a number of them out there that provide specialized education to kids with dyslexia or other neurologies. However, that produces an entirely new problem: transportation and expense.
If you have enough resources to pay for both tuition and transport, that’s wonderful. Tuition is expensive, and even if you have a voucher, transportation can be either unsafe or be extremely costly. If you can’t sacrifice income for either of these things, due to living, medical or any other unavoidable expense, your options are sharply reduced to either home schooling or public school. If you’re a single parent, or in a household in which both parents need to work, homeschooling is out of the question. I was lucky to attend a public school which was one of the better ones at the time in terms of special education, but many lag painfully behind.
All of these issues culminate in a population with poor reading and writing skills. It’s not that many of these individuals willfully avoid learning. They simply didn’t have enough early opportunity and encouragement to give them a firm foundation on which to stand. I stress the word “many” because although quite a few situations may have things in common, none of them are identical.
I don’t think throwing money at a problem will solve it, either. I believe that heightened awareness of individual learning styles and restructuring the current educational system will help. I also believe that changing attitudes about education and learning disabilities would go a long way towards making positive change.
Unfortunately, there is no quick cure-all, which is precisely what our culture wants. There are strides being made toward changes in thought, technique and awareness, but it’s the way the general populace perceives education and neurodiversity that takes a while to change. It’s tough, but it is possible.
Labels aside, we’re all human, and it takes time to change the way we look at any issue.