Volume 2 • #71 • April 2008


It is said that the most powerful emotion a person can feel is humiliation.  I would have guessed fear, but apparently fear is somewhere down the line of mental miseries.  It is true, of course, that in a terrifying situation an occasional person can actually risk his own life to save somebody else’s.  So you do hear about heroes.  But humiliation is right up there at the top. The feeling may become diluted somewhat, but it gnaws at you forever, even though you may manage to get on with your life in spite of it.

Dyslectics are subjected to humiliation all their lives, starting in first grade and going on forever.  This makes me abnormally  intolerant of any teacher who uses embarrassment as a disciplinary tool in any classroom.  In my opinion, such a person should be summarily fired.

Now right up there with obnoxious teachers are parents who use humiliation to discipline kids. Maybe they really don’t know how devastating it can be, but that is a rather thin excuse.  So I am always on the lookout for ways of correcting the mistakes of a poor reader without letting him feel that he was dumb.  The first step, of course, is my canned speech about how dyslexia is a matter of miswiring in the brain that has nothing to do with intelligence, any more than a taste for broccoli, or flat feet. After I start lessons, I correct an error by first pointing out what was right, and then suggesting a way to fix it.  “You have most of that word right, but the middle is missing.  Can you put in that syllable?”

When you get both embarrassment and fear together in some hapless student, as I have had occasionally, you need other tricks.  One little girl I had was so scared of making a mistake that you could practically see her brain shut down.  She simply froze. Her reading wasn’t bad, but she was “word calling” without comprehension. Her Papa was nice, but rather stern and she was terrified of making a mistake in front of him.  Here’s what I did.

I got a story she could read, had her read the first two sentences out loud, and then I put my hand over the print and asked her what it had said-  not verbatim, but the gist of it.  If she couldn’t remember, I repeated the process-  she read, I covered, she told.  It didn’t take very long before her brain realized that it had to dig in and do more than just repeat words.  Once she got the idea, I told her to take her homework and do the same thing with it:  read it outloud, cover, and repeat.  No dice?  Do it again.  But when she was at home, she was to do this in her room by herself, so nobody ever heard what she read.  With total control over the situation, she could begin to make her brain listen for meaning. And she  could safely ask her parents for the meaning of an occasional word she didn’t understand, thank them when they supplied it, and politely decline further offers of help!




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