dyslexic is no joke. It is bad enough in childhood, when the
children who just can't seem to read so often have to endure
undeserved punishment from adults, teasing and rejection from
friends, report cards bristling with accusatory Fs, and generally
don't improve much in adulthood. To an adult, dyslexia may
mean going out to a restaurant and having to wait until his
dinner partner orders so he can casually duplicate the order,
only to get stuck with Fettucini Alfredo when he hates pasta.
It often means a lifetime of pretending and covering up, of
hiding one's lack of reading ability from employers, friends,
teachers of learning-disabled students know all this, but
I didn't know any of it on my first day of teaching, years
ago. In the middle of the year, I suddenly inherited a self-contained
class of seven dyslexic boys, too old for, but technically
in, seventh grade. As I reached for some material the previous
teacher had left me, I began to find out about lacerated egos
in a hurry.
gee, do we have to read that stuff?" asked a lanky
fourteen year old.
no, Tommy. You don't have to read anything you don't like.
What's the matter with this stuff?" I asked, somewhat
know what it says in there?" he said, looking at it
with distaste. "It says, 'This---is---a---horse!'"
and he strung out the words with disgust.
looked at the seven pairs of eyes staring at me from around
the table. Two of the boys had already spent a year in reform
school when they were ten. Another had severe emotional problems
as a result of hydrocephalus. Two pairs of eyes belonged to
the haunted faces of children who hadn't "measured up"
to educated parents' expectations. Three of these "seventh
graders" were already taller than I was.
I don't plan to bore you all to death, and I don't plan
to bore myself to death, either, so I guess we'll throw
this out and get something better," I said cheerfully.
A sigh of relief went around the table.
days later I got my second lesson in lacerated egos during
math class. In those days we operated sitting around a table
in the corner of the school library, since we didn't have
a room of our own. I had distributed Cuisenaire rods to everybody,
and each student had taken a piece of yellow paper from the
pile in the center of the table to do his calculations. Hearing
the door of the library open, I glanced around and saw a ninth
grade English class piling in. When I turned back, there were
seven innocent faces looking at me over a lumpy pile of yellow
papers that covered the table. Nary a Cuisenaire rod was visible.
For the next twenty minutes, until the English class left,
we sat around the lumpy pile of yellow papers and blandly
discussed the latest ball scores, the possibility of snow,
and the international situation. Finally the last of the ninth
graders left. The yellow papers were returned neatly to the
center of the table, the rods magically reappeared, and math
class went on without a word from me.
at the thought of having to give up Cuisenaire rods, too,
I pointed out to the boys that the rods are not toys at all,
but math tools, and that some very good schools use them all
the way up to algebra. Patiently, Tommy explained:
we know that, and you know that, but the other kids don't."
I gave up Cuisenaire rods with a sigh until we could have
private quarters and started looking for more suitable reading
material. All the phonics programs were for first and second
graders, filled with stories about animals and mommies and
awash with drawings of cute kiddies romping around. Grimly,
I settled on the specifications of the material I was going
material, whether for reading or spelling, had to
adult on quick inspection from a passing pal (this meant
no pictures and no print much larger than normal type),
vocabulary that would not insult a reasonably cool fourteen-year
old. (Hubcap is just as simple, phonetically, as
kitten. "He flipped his lid" isn't Shakespeare,
but it certainly beats, "Oh, see the red wagon.")
course I wound up pounding out my own material on the typewriter,
and for years I worked from typed cards and piles of loose
ditto sheets. Now here it all is, respectably and conveniently
organized into workbooks and a book, "Reading from Scratch"
that tells all! It still has no illustrations-and never
will. It has an adult vocabulary from the very beginning,
and it is my contribution to healing lacerated adolescent