"Bad education seeks to make the child something other than him or herself"by Charles Foster / July 25, 2016 / Leave a comment
“Come in,” said a well-known educational psychologist. She’d spent the afternoon testing our son, Tom, who was then six. “Well,” she said, “he’s highly intelligent.” We braced ourselves for the “but.” She didn’t cushion it. “He’s also severely dyslexic.”
I was delighted. Tom had always had a dazzlingly holistic view of the world. He saw connections and context where I saw only atomistic entities. For him, the world was an ecstatically vibrating web of relationship. His own relationships with leaves and stones were immediate, intense and accepting—at least relatively unmediated by the words we use to describe those things, and the concepts conjured by the words. If I walk into a wood I don’t hear the wind or the birdsong: they’re drowned out by deafening cognitive tinnitus. It’s been decades since I’ve seen a tree rather than my idea of a tree. My ideas of trees are far less boring than trees themselves, and only distantly related to them. Tom saw trees all the time. He was an epistemological aristocrat. And since he was dyslexic, and always would be, he’d never lose his aristocracy. My candidates for Philosopher King are all dyslexic.
As I cheered, my wife, who is less dangerously romantic and much more prescient and sensible, wept. She saw, as I did not, that Tom would have to live in our grey, nerdish, reductionist world; that he would be seen there not as a prodigy but a dunce; as a blunderer, not a visionary. And that’s what she said. My reaction was ridiculous: “We’ll make sure that he lives in a part of the world—call it a bubble if you like—that will appreciate him. And even if we can’t, just look at all those celebrated dyslexics. People are realizing that dyslexia is a gift, not a disability.” She laughed at that. And quite right too.
We debated long, hard and loudly about how Tom should be educated. I resisted for a while my wife’s insistence that he should go to a specialist dyslexia school. My argument used words like “ghettoization.” In the end my wife prevailed, and of course she was proved right. By the end of the first day Tom was palpably happier. He no longer had to pretend that he was the same as the other kids in his regular state school class. For the first time he had the companionship of real neurobiological peers.