Dyslexia

Dunce-Hat

When I was a child dyslexia and other learing difficulties were all lumped together and labelled as stupidity.  What was worse is that instead of trying to “help” so called stupid children the teaching model was to punish these children.

Punishment could take the form of physical beating, some used canes or sticks, others used their fists.  Psychological punishment was widespread, putting children in corners, I never saw anyone wear a dunce hat, but we were not far off, putting children into stress postures, such as making them stand on a chair or making them hold up a heavy bag.

This was not for “bad behaviour”.  This was for getting questions wrong.  And many of these kids could seldom get a question right.  When they looked at a page of text they saw something like this:

Dyslex2

Thank goodness now we understand that genuine stupidity is rare and unfortunate.  Most kids who struggle to learn in traditional modes have some type of learning difficulty.  In the right environment, with the right diagnosis and the right teacher they shine through.

I went on to do some mentoring of kids with learning difficulties.  Reading with one young lad who had dyslexia showed me that when he looked at a word he saw it upside down and backwards at first glance.  The word “WAS” looked to him like “SAM”.  But more damaging to him than that glitch was the dent in his confidence and it was a pleasure to help him build it.

Later I did some teaching at 3rd level.  I began to spot clues that some students were using practiced techniques to overcome issues.  Widespread use of different coloured pens is a pretty good indicator.  But what impressed me about dyslexic students was the clarity they brought to their answers.  They could not disgorge 5 foolscap pages of waffle on an answer, but they communicated the vital elements of their understanding of the subject in one or two well thought out and clearly crafted pages.  Less is more.  Say little but say it well.

A perfect example is this poem.  Posted on Twitter by Jane Broadis @Jb5jane it is from one of her 10 year old students.  AO wrote a poem that can be read from top to bottom or from bottom to top.  Personally I prefer bottom to top.  It is a work of genius.

Dyslexia

For those with old eyes I’ll type it out here:

 

Dyslexia ; by AO

I am stupid.

Nobody would every say

I have a talent for words

I was meant to be great

That is wrong

I am a failure

Nobody could ever convince me to think that

I can make it in life.

 

NOW READ UP ⇑

Beginnings

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Early morning and the day begins.

On the bank of the lake the daffodils strain their buds against the sepal, turgid with expectation. Spring begins.

In the school young minds are moulded and formed as children metamorphose.  Adulthood begins.

I too have beginnings to contend with.

A moment to reflect, a breath, and a beginning.

 

When Health & Safety goes mad!

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My eldest son was describing his school science class to me.  He told me how frustrated his science teacher is, because Health & Safety guidelines have resulted in the removal of many substances from the school.  Teachers cannot demonstrate many of the bread and butter experiments any more because they are too dangerous.  Bunsen Burners are being removed and replaced with hot plates.  Sodium and Potassium have been taken off the experiments list – way too dangerous.  And forget phosphorous.

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For many years in Ireland the study of science was in decline.  The government of Ireland made science education a priority.  We want kids to study science.  We want them to experiment and to have fun and to get excited about the subject. At the same time the Health & Safety gremlins want to make sure that our kids are not boiled in acid, blinded by explosions, scorched by naked gas flames, gassed by toxic fumes or knocked out with chloroform. The problem here is that the H&S gremlins always win the argument.  There is no reasoned debate.  If you ask “how many kids were actually harmed in school experiments in the last 12 months” they will not answer.  They work on the basis of risk assessment, not risk fact, or risk history, or reported incidents. This is a problem for the teaching of science in schools,and in universities.

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Science involves pushing the boundaries of what is now possible.  Science is about doing risky things.  If we let H&S take over the world then we can say bye bye to any new breakthrough discoveries. The minute I start to talk like this the H&S gremlins roll out their big guns.

Insurance.  If you don’t listen to the gremlins, they warn that the Insurance costs will skyrocket.  Even worse, they warn, we will be open to claims of liability.

The very fact that H&S have raised a risk means that we automatically become liable to that risk in a way we never were before. Just imagine, little Johnny is in class carrying out a titration experiment.  The teacher warns the class not to boil the alcohol.  Johnny thinks this is funny and turns up the heat.  The alcohol boils and ignites.  There is a relatively harmless flash which removes Johnnies eyebrows, much to the amusement of the class.

Mommy is not laughing.  He was scheduled for a set of head-shots for a modelling job. She sues the school.  Her bottom feeding pond sucking scum lawyer knows exactly what to look for.  He unearths the minutes of a school meeting where the Health and Safety officer expressed concern that bunsen burners in the hands of children were a danger.  The school did not remove them.  QED, the school is at fault.  Case closed.  Now, if H&S had never reported the risk, the liability of the school would have been lessened.

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My own take on all this is simple.  I want my kids to learn science properly.  I want them to engage in experimentation.  I am prepared to sign a liability waiver as a condition of my child taking part in potentially dangerous experiments.  If little Johnnies Mommy is not prepared to sign the waiver I am quite happy to see little Johnny study something less dangerous instead.

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Art?  No, chisels are too dangerous. Technical drawing?  No, compasses are pointy. Music?  No, drumsticks, violin bows, breaking strings, risk of deafness from Cymbal crashing. Home economics?  Sewing needles, knives, scissors, hot cooking plates, no way. Religion.  That should be OK.  Nobody dies because of religion.  Do they? Problem is, how is Mommy going to protect little Johnny from himself, and from getting his heart broken by a girl, and from his personal failures, and his nasty boss, and from the random vagaries of the world?

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Chemistry Experiment; by Bart Edelman

We listened intently to the professor,

Followed each one of her instructions,

Read through the textbook twice,

Wore lab coats and safety goggles,

Mixed the perfect chemical combinations

In the proper amount and order.

We thought we were a complete success.

And then the flash of light,

The loud, perplexing explosion,

The black rope of smoke,

Rising freely above our singed hair.

Someone in another lab down the hallway

Phoned the local fire department

Which arrived lickety-split

With the hazardous waste crew,

And they assessed the accident,

Deciding we were out of danger.

It was the talk of the campus,

For many weeks afterwords.

We, However, became so disillusioned

That we immediately dropped the course

And slowly retreated from each other.

The very idea we could have done

More damage than we actually did–

Blown ourselves up and the building

From the base of its foundation–

Shook us, like nothing had before.

And even now, years later,

When anyone still asks about you,

I get this sick feeling in my stomach

And wonder what really happened

To all the elementary matter.

Summers End

As we wind into the latter half of August the talk turns to school schedules, uniforms, books, study plans and the hopes and dreams of the year to come. It always seems to me that the Celts got it right, starting the new year at the end of the last harvest in Halloween. There is a natural feel of completeness to a year at the end of the summer, that is absent at the winter solstice.

The Academic year just seems more RIGHT as a way of ticking off time. We will shortly close up our summer bolt hole and go back to the ranch. Back to lift and dry the onions, harvest the turgid tomatoes and pick the plumbs. Look for the blackberries to ripen, with the promise of crumbles to come.

Autumn beckons with the promise of misty mornings, log fires and the hope of an indian summer.

The End of Summer; by Rachel Hadas

Sweet smell of phlox drifting across the lawn—
an early warning of the end of summer.
August is fading fast, and by September
the little purple flowers will all be gone.

Season, project, and vacation done.
One more year in everybody’s life.
Add a notch to the old hunting knife
Time keeps testing with a horny thumb.

Over the summer months hung an unspoken
aura of urgency. In late July
galactic pulsings filled the midnight sky
like silent screaming, so that, strangely woken,

we looked at one another in the dark,
then at the milky magical debris
arcing across, dwarfing our meek mortality.
There were two ways to live: get on with work,

redeem the time, ignore the imminence
of cataclysm; or else take it slow,
be as tranquil as the neighbors’ cow
we love to tickle through the barbed wire fence
(she paces through her days in massive innocence,
or, seeing green pastures, we imagine so).

In fact, not being cows, we have no choice.
Summer or winter, country, city, we
are prisoners from the start and automatically,
hemmed in, harangued by the one clamorous voice.

Not light but language shocks us out of sleep
ideas of doom transformed to meteors
we translate back to portents of the wars
looming above the nervous watch we keep

Milestones

My youngest son sat his entrance exam for secondary school today.  OK he doesn’t actually enter secondary school until next September.  But it still feels like a milestone.  The deed is done, the exam is taken.  There is nothing further significant that he must achieve this year in his final year in Primary School.  In May he will be a teenager and, in one of the new rites of passage of our modern world, he will be eligible for a Facebook Page.

I always like to pause at milestones like this and take account.  What advice do I give a young gentleman embarking on a new chapter.  OK, he may be a little young for Polonius’s advice to Laertes, but it is worth a recall.  What I don’t get is why people think this is ironic.  It is all good stuff!

POLONIUS:

Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, And you are stay’d for.

There, my blessing with thee.  And these few precepts in thy memory

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportion’s thought his act.

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade.

Beware Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,

Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

And they in France of the best rank and station

Are of a most select and generous, chief in that

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!

Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act 1 Scene iii