Cut from the Herd

at 12:35 AM

Dyslexia, as my older son once wrote on an "All About Me" poster, is where our family comes from. He is dyslexic, as is my younger son, my husband, and was my father.

My father never admitted his dyslexia to anyone, and my husband only came to truly understand his learning disability through his children. Times have changed, and my sons were fortunate to have early identification and intervention.

I am not going to tell you that having dyslexic children is easy. There is much advocacy and support involved. The daily struggle with schoolwork can be excruciating, and I cringe every time one of my boys tells me that they are stupid. But having dyslexia can also be surprisingly freeing and can help kids integrate with the world around them.

Our public educational school system assesses children at every turn, on every subject, and expects them to learn in a herd. But when you simply aren't part of that herd, everything changes. Expectations and priorities shift. Tests rarely go well, so test performance stops being the focus. The goal is not to get good grades but instead to figure out how to learn. We don't emphasize the result, we emphasize the process. We think as creatively as possible about the material and ask a lot of questions. How does A impact B? How do things fit together? The results are rarely conventional, but almost always informative and interesting. And no one is ever expected to memorize facts that will soon be forgotten.

I admit I sometimes bristle when I hear friends talk about their children acing an exam or being placed in advanced this or that. And I often wish my boys didn't have to work so hard only to be told, repeatedly, that that are average.

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But more than any of those things, I admire them for facing school with courage, for not giving up when they literally fail, for the creative ways they approach their work. And in the end I think they might be the lucky ones, because having to do all of these things will undoubtedly help them to become thoughtful, engaged and happy adults.

With a Perspective, I'm Jane Mason.

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Jane Mason writes children's books. She lives in Oakland.

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