When I was growing up, and I saw some of my peers battle with learning disorders like dyslexia, I really did feel compassion for them. A bit.
But to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought.
As far as I could see, those poor souls had their own strengths, and those strengths simply didn’t rely very much on the ability to read at all. I reasoned that not everyone could be academically brilliant (and I now know that true academic genius potential afflicts less than 10% of the population, so I was right ;)). It seemed logical to me that some of us would be good at book learning, and others would be good at other stuff, and all of these unique giftednesses (see what I did there?) would work together to make a nicely balanced, rounded world (ha ha, there’s another).
And it’s true. Each of us is uniquely skilled and these differences are what make us better as a community.
Having said that, at the very same time as I was having those noble, accepting, inclusive thoughts about my peers, I was also developing a philosophy of learning of my own. And this philosophy was based on how I learn best, and the kind of teaching I would like to give my own children one day.
The very teaching, as it happens, that I am giving my children now.
Here’s how it goes:
My philosophy of education in a nutshell
Only three things matter:
A strong, grounded moral compass and the tools for survival in modern society;
A firm grasp of mathematical concepts;
The ability to read.
Once you’ve got those, you’re unstoppable.
The ability to read is the lynch pin. I saw it as a kind of clockwork key: you instil the ability to read (and the love of reading) in the child in much the same way as you’d wind up a clockwork car. Then you let them loose. All knowledge in their path would be voraciously devoured. They’d be unstoppable. There’d be no avenue of endeavour closed to the avid reader, as long as there were words explaining it all out there somewhere.
And that’s how I’ve been focusing my efforts at teaching my girls. As long as I could give them a firm grasp of maths and an abiding love of reading, the rest would come naturally (since naturally we’d model a strong moral compass and the tools for survival in everyday life. *Drips irony onto the napkin conveniently placed next to the large serving of humble pie*).
It never crossed my mind – not even once – that a child of mine would not read.
I know just how it sounds and how it seems from the outside, because I was there, outside. Vaguely glancing in as I bustled on by but, honestly, barely even noticing the window I was passing, let alone understanding all the it implied.
I was afraid of the pitfalls and preparing myself for the challenges. I was scared of having a sick child, a dying child. I was scared of losing a child. And I was ready. I gritted my teeth and crossed my fingers and turned my face towards the wind. I’d handle it.
But what of a bright, capable, incredible child with infinite curiosity and unplumbed potential, but without the simple tool to sate it? How can such a child learn? Especially when her teacher is such a closed-minded, one-track, and above-all distracted imparter of information like me? How will she progress? How will she make her way in the world when that way is barred by briars and tangles and weeds and thorns all shaped like letters of the alphabet and their cruel modifying punctuation marks?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that.
However, I am nothing if not determined. And fortunately the same is true of Goldilocks. Now that we have a better idea of what we’re up against, we can begin to hack a way through the thorny hedge and find the enchanted castle, filled with the magical wonder of knowledge lurking deep within.
We just have a dyslexic dragon to slay along the way. Wish us luck!