Parents Education Network presented its 4th Annual EdRev (Education Revolution) Event on Saturday, April 21st, 2012 at the San Francisco Giants Ballpark. It is amazing to me that no matter how much rain or fog we get during April, in San Francisco, somehow the sun comes out on EdRev day. A huge crowd, around 1,500 hundred (we await the final count) showed up to learn more about dyslexia and ADD. This blog focuses on the Keynote activities.
Up first was Safe Voices, a student community within PEN that strives to educate, mentor and support students, parents and teachers about the challenges and strengths of Learning Difficulties (LD) and Attention Deficit Disorder(ADHD) Through this program LD students discover that what they perceive as their greatest weakness, in fact, can become their greatest strength. A first step is learning how to speak up for what one needs and who one is.
At the Keynote, Safe Voices students were dotted amongst the crowd in the ballpark adjacent to first base. Each had a soap box and a microphone. Each spoke up for themselves sharing short phrases which have been instrumental in helping them change their attitudes about themselves. Phrases like:
- If you teach me 1,000 times and I don’t get it, who is the slow learner?
- Learning different students think outside the box. If they didn’t, what would the world would be like?
- We own our differences, we accept them.
- I am much more than my learning difference. The only thing that matters is: I am who I am.
- I get up on a box and am heard and am sparking a revolution in education.
- And, so it went.
Jonathan Mooney, a much respected dyslexic who has no trouble in speaking up for himself, took over as moderator. He posed questions to guest speakers, all successful dyslexics, who have found careers that take advantage of their ability to think outside the box. Joining Jonathan were:
Eric McGehearty CEO of Globe Runner SEO, a top-performing, Dallas-based SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and digital marketing firm. In an addition he’s an award-winning artist. Filmmaker Leah H. Bell, produced the documentary Access Denied about the intersection of Eric’s life, art and dyslexia. His told us: Nothing in school worked for me. In Grade One I had a teacher who didn’t get me. She shook me very hard. I was very shy, very scared to interact. In middle school I began being an advocate for myself and my life began to turn around. I had suicidal thoughts until being
connected to people who supported me.
Tracy Johnson, was not diagnosed with dyslexia until college age. Her story is notable a) for the many hurdles she had to overcome, b) for persevering and c) being willing to work harder than most college students do. She was recently featured in the HBO documentary, Journey into Dyslexia, Great Minds Think Differently. In grade school, Johnson was diagnosed as “learning disabled,” a label that stuck through high school and a failed try at community college. The education system broke down for her as the label didn’t identify her LD. Then, her self-esteem plummeted. Tracy realized she was dyslexic when she was cleaning classrooms for a living. Now, she is an enrollment advisor at Eastern University.
Steve Walker is a self-taught dyslexic, engineer and entrepreneur who founded and is now President & CEO of New England Wood Pellet LLC. A true visionary, Steve has been a leader in promotion of renewable energy policy for biomass thermal technologies at the state, national and international level. He, too, is featured in Journey into Dyslexia. Steve told us that if an ally had been around to help him when he went to school he would have been a doctor. Instead, he stared at the clock. When he had to write the letters on the yellow paper with lines he was stumped. In high school he couldn’t read the math questions. Instead he developed low self-esteem. To make matters worse his mother told him if he didn’t go to college he would work in the factory. Well, now, he owns factories and has ended up hiring people who gave him a rough time. Yes, he said, I had a lot of anger.
Each of these speakers and moderator have different backgrounds, but there are common threads in themes and solutions they see and some are outlined below.
- The education system needs to be re-engineered. The system is not serving more than 20% of its population. Dyslexics need to take the lead. We have to look at where does the education system break down? Teachers don’t know how much these 20% really know because their processes can’t give their LD students away to explain. Vocational training and all activities involving creativity needs to re-instated. The Special Ed’s focus of fixing a dyslexic’s shortcomings needs to flip to support what LD students can do best, refocusing on the positives. School must be the time to find out what you are good at. Innovation and creativity go hand in hand. LD students need to learn how to be a leader feeling capable of listening to different points of view. Remember there is no normal.
- Communication. Dyslexics have many different dimensions. Vision is how we see it, not what we see. Learning how to communicate ideas is what a dyslexic’s life wants to be about: communicating the vision, getting my team to go with me. This means dyslexics need to understand concepts to be successful. Communicating a vision is central to success. Dyslexics always want to grow as a person,
- Parents must assume an advocate role to support and care for their LD student. Listen and explore what the child really needs. Go from strength of your LD child. Don’t let the education process drive your decisions. Find a school where your child fits, where they can excel. Leave your ego at the door , which means let go thinking your child has to go to a fancy school. Your concern ought to be: how do I make my kid’s lifetime experience a positive one.
- Dyslexics are often artists, starters, builders, teachers. Finding a way to leverage these talents is the challenge not only for parents and teachers but also dyslexics. A successful artist who has dyslexia and who has a dream to help others may not always be successful as an administrator, which requires a lot of busy work. Dyslexics need to sell their team on what he or she needs. One goal is to get to the point where you have no fear of shouting out from the door: How do I spell this word? Dyslexics need to learn how to back off if someone is trying to make them be someone they aren’t.
- Leveraging growth after school. Taking what seems to be a menial job can open doors. a) Steve was working in a factory. The engineers were all struggling with how to solve a program. One night he had a great idea and stayed up all night solving their problem. That’s when he turned around. He started his own company at 18 – a lawn mower company. Tracy was cleaning school rooms to make a living. She kept thinking, there is something wrong here. I am as smart as some of these students. One night watching the Cosby Show, Tracy learned about dyslexia. The light went on, and she kept going. She re-iterates we need the right, light soil.