Dyslexia is a hook, which I know very well.
It's extraordinary how easily the label becomes a prominent hook on which to hang all our numerous problems.
In the accepted sense of the word you would say that I'm dyslexic, profoundly so. By the same token, as the Joneses see it, you might say that I have a profound problem being dyslexic. This is not so.
If we are at ease, relaxed with the hook/front/label, or mask of dyslexia, in its entire colourful array, it isn’t, in my opinion, a problem; in fact very much the opposite, dyslexia becomes an asset.
For the moment, let us look at how dyslexia is seen by the majority of parents, teachers and educational experts. In most scholastic avenues, dyslexia is perceived to be a negative barrier, which stops us from learning. And I want to look at this perception, from the dyslexic’s viewpoint, methodically and extremely carefully.
Before I continue, it is not my intention to belittle the intense prejudices that dyslexics so often encounter within educational establishments and indeed the marketplace. For all its elusive characteristics, dyslexia is a very real front. My problem isn't with the front though, and nor do I believe it so for any other dyslexics. The problem for the dyslexic, if and when there is a problem, begins and really ends with what's going on behind, underneath, on top and in front of this hook/front/label/mask.
If we are really serious in wanting to relinquish ourselves from this so called problem of dyslexia, then I think it’s imperative to look at the mask/hook/label from all sides. And I mean from the teacher’s, expert’s, parent’s and the dyslexic’s perspective. Sadly, we are threatened by this approach, because this usually means facing a cauldron of fear, and in some cases, bucket loads of unadulterated terror. Because of the intense prejudice attached to this deeper resolution, relinquishing ourselves from fear is extremely hard. It’s a no-win situation, unless that is we celebrate and welcome our dyslexic as an intricate and respected part of the fold.
Again, as with looking into our ingrown fears, a reason to celebrate our dyslexia is perceived by most parents and teachers as being synonymous for time wasting and weakness too. God help us, this resolve might see the experts as being out of a job and we can't have that!
I was born and brought up in a city, synonymous for learning and learned people. Both my parents were predominantly academic. In our neighbourhood, there were housed some of the most respected scholars in the kingdom. This was post-war Briton and as with a lot of families at that time, my parents wanted to live in a household of collective principles and see their children educated through the state school system. On paper this all sounded fine.
I failed a ridiculous exam, called the 11+ and ended up going to a secondary school in the nether regions of the city. And when I look back at how I was treated, I am appalled: segregation, racism, homophobia and all the other phobias spring to mind. It wasn’t just the beatings, or grappling with the other boys, (who I have to add after a year or two of playing the classroom idiot became very close friends), along with the constant humiliation for not passing the latest test, it was the environment in which I was brought up that I believe left the biggest scar on my emotional landscape. But this is something to address on another occasion, let’s just stick to the case in hand. At time of writing, I have been very fortunate in liberating myself from the shackles of shame and embarrassment, associated with not being able to read and write in the so called normal, accepted sense.
I discovered, or at least really admitted to being dyslexic when I reached my 53rd year. At first I was filled with euphoria. The hook/front/label gave some short-term understanding for my pitiful position on the academic ladder. Then, not long after the euphoria, the anger exploded into the room, huge amounts of steaming vitriolic anger.
If you are lucky, as I have been, (yoga, acting, therapy and a loving wife helped to pave the way) and you are prepared to do the groundwork, with a real and honest sense of awareness, there is every possibility the anger will subside. In its place comes a deeper, wiser understanding of anger, revenge, war and the cause and cessation of this loaded and often uncontrollable emotion. But in order to get to this place of insight, we have to allow ourselves to look into the true source of this tangible fury.
Anger in its various colours, light and dark shades, is a palpable emotion, underlined by corresponding amounts of fear. By admitting to the broad base of fear underling my anger, I was able to gain a fundamental control over it. Once I began admitting that fear was the master emotion in my life, the anger was much easier to handle and indeed lost its dominant hold over me. Long story short, this release brought on an emotional collapse. However, through yoga, acting and therapy – in that order – I was able to regain a confidence, not a wilful confidence, but a relaxed dignified confidence.
When I left school I started off with nothing, no PhD’ S, no BA’s, no O’s or A-levels, absolutely nothing. I learnt, as I went through life. It has to be said that there were many more openings and opportunities then. There were more job prospects. Grants for colleges were easier to come by. If you wanted to be an actor, or an artist of any sort, a place could open itself up in one of the numerous drama schools, music, or art academies, without the need for qualifications. If you were talented they gave you a place, simple as that. It is without question a lot harder now and a tougher world in that respect.
Because I had it easier, this doesn’t mean that I don’t know how the bat and ball of dyslexia works in the modern world, believe me I know from first-hand, horse’s mouth, experience.
Let's just say, for example, that I can't spell the word twelve. If I don’t have a problem with being dyslexic, it really isn't an ordeal to ask a colleague, or indeed a stranger how you spell the word. If I can simply say in passing, ‘excuse me, how do you spell twelve’, without any loaded feelings of inferiority, in a light-hearted vein, without any fear of any repercussions, there is absolutely, no problem. If however, I have learnt to be ashamed, fearful, full of embarrassment, about spelling this word, or the other, it is then that I'm in trouble.
Which brings us to the fundamentals; we constantly perceive dyslexia to be an endemic problem. A problem that isn’t just about our inabilities with spelling, reading, writing and mathematics, but about what we are as human beings. Yes, the prejudice in relation to dyslexia is as rife as it is ridiculous.
Let’s just put this eternal attitude toward dyslexia into perspective, using an example of your washing machine breaking down, which they invariably do. It is not your forte to fix such machines, so what do you do? In this day and age, you would routinely phone the shop from which you bought it and they in turn would send an engineer/plumber round to your house.
How would you feel if the plumber/engineer turned up, walked into your kitchen, gave your washing machine the once over, then said, it's only a little leak, an electric circuit break, you can fix it!?
I don’t know anything about washing machines, you say.
Come on, you can repair it, he injects. I will teach you!
I don’t want to, you moot in, trying to remain calm.
Please, don’t get upset. We will find a specialist to help you, he says, with a patronising disposition oozing from every pore of his smug face.
I don’t want, I can’t.
You don’t want to fix it, what planet are you on? You and your kitchen sink problems; you’ll have to get yourself fixed, along with all the other lags!
If the engineer/plumber came anywhere near this kind of attitude, we would be outraged, would we not? There is no difference in my mind, with someone who cannot spell a word, to someone who cannot fix a washing machine. But unlike those who can’t fix the washing machine, if we can't spell, read, write and add up in the accepted sense, it seems we are marginalised, so often made to feel like miserable misfits, a long way off from the rest of our fellow human beings.
The problem becomes a problem when teachers, ministers of education, school psychologists, parents, elders and all the experts, are 1000% convinced that getting to the head of the queue and passing tests is the most important part of our schooling. The life-saving, essential link to living in the shark infested waters of the real world. This I believe is fundamentally wrong, and in my opinion where schooling, (not education, for education is what we all have, whether we sit in a classroom or not) skids off the rails wildly and with huge implications. It is still an unbelievable fact that schooling measures children by their achievements and basically endorses those who don’t fit in, to sit a long way off from any hope. With our place in the competitive league tables, held up as the main reason for going to school, the basic emotional language of ‘getting to the top’, for fear of not fitting in and not succeeding, is what we learn to take out into the world. Which means, because of the needs of a select few, most of us misfits are funnelled into the bottom of the pile, where the need for fodder is paramount in keeping the pile afloat; a pile, which is, as the years roll by, getting larger and larger.
And the Pile Is a Pyramid
It stands to reason then, that if we live in a pyramid-based society the broadest part of this structure is where the weakest and the poorest stand. It's all been said before, so many times, but let us make this clear, without those people at the bottom, the pyramid wouldn't hold up. We need the losers. Schooling, through a thin veil of well-wishing, basically sets out to propel us to our allotted place in the pyramid. To this end, many of us leave school with one mission in mind, to get to the highest place in the corporate pile, to the top of pyramid ladder. Let's face it though, the majority of us never get anywhere near the top, we just flail around at the bottom, or if we’re ruthless, lucky enough, somewhere in the middle.
I am spelling it out from a clearheaded, dyslexic's viewpoint. Schooling, as it invariably has in previous generations, sow's seeds for a fear-based society. Whatever the experts may think; however good the intentions, if teachers are trained, or indeed brainwashed into getting their pupils through school, for a coveted place in the pyramid, they are being forced to separate their students, like wheat from the chaff. This desperate separation, primarily geared up for getting results, creates a huge rift and in my opinion, is basically drilling a feeling of conflict ever deeper into our psyche.
Copyright © 2009 by Matthew Scurfield