“When someone masters something, it becomes a part of that person. It becomes part of the individual’s thought and creative process. It adds the quality of its essence to all subsequent thought and creativity of the individual.”
― Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia
There are times when I learn very quickly. Those times usually rely on instinct rather than thinking things through, on absorbing learning in a hands-on way, through the senses, on seeing, doing, rather than reading an instruction manual or being taught in a conventional (often overly verbose) manner which tells you things but doesn’t show you what it tells you, doesn’t make you live it through your own experience of it.
I can construct a piece of Ikea furniture before someone who uses the instructions which come with it realises that the instructions are not there to help but were created by an evil genius as a part of a psychological experiment designed to test your puzzle (and puzzled) skills.
However most of the time I learn very slowly. This can make me appear stupid to others, and sometimes to myself as well. It can be frustrating having to learn things in a world which caters to brains that are wired a certain way when your brain is not wired that way.
I have dyslexia. If I tell people that about myself it creates more problems than it solves (like reading the instructions which comes with a deconstructed piece of furniture), because most people don’t understand what it means. They either don’t care because they don’t have a personal point of reference or they simply can’t understand because their brain isn’t wired to do so. There are those in academia who think dyslexia doesn’t actually exist. Well, it doesn’t if you don’t have it, however if you do have it, it is very real. So I tend to keep quiet about it and most people don’t notice it.
Years ago I read a true story in the news about a much valued, praised and loved University professor who, in the latter stages of his career, was exposed as not having the correct paper credentials for being a professor. His reason for not having those was due to his dyslexia. He had tried to do things the ‘right’ way, get the required credentials, but that way had been ‘wrong’ for him, the system was designed for brains wired differently, so he had done things his way to pursue his passion for teaching. In spite of his years of excellence as a professor, despite having many students old and young, past and present, who had benefited from his style of teaching (a style which was inspired by his dyslexia), and colleagues who admired his work (his unique method of teaching), who all voiced their support for him (his ability to teach even the most learning resistant), he was dismissed. His career was over, his passion for teaching was summarily brought to an end by the rather embarrassed (did they not check his credentials) University who had hired him and had profited from his skills.
“Being dyslexic can actually help in the outside world. I see some things clearer than other people do because I have to simplify things to help me and that has helped others.” – Richard Branson
This story lodged itself in my mind for several reasons.
One of which was the wiring of the brain of society – had no one ever found out about this professor not having the correct paper credentials, he would have continued in his chosen profession until he retired and would have also continued to be praised for his excellent work as a teacher. One piece of paper and the writing upon it (or the lack of it) changed how people viewed him, what he had done and achieved for himself and others. What he had done as a teacher did not matter, what he had done (and not done) to become a teacher did.
The other thing which stood out for me was in something he said while explaining the path which lead him to do what he had done. Having dyslexia and the problems which it posed for him in an educational system which catered to a different kind of brain had made him more creative. It pushed him to think out of the box to find solutions to problems. To invent, adapt, and bring something new to the established system. His nature was his gift, and it would become a gift for others too.
His dyslexia had inspired him in the way that he taught. His method of teaching was different and innovative, it incorporated a hands-on experience between his students and the subject – and they credited him for inspiring them to really connect with the subject, not just learn it in parrot fashion to pass their tests and get their paper credentials, but to get their hands dirty, to feel the subject, absorb it, feel it coursing through their veins, see it, visualise it and be a part of the picture.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I see and I understand.” – Confucius
Dyslexia for those who don’t have it tends to be summed up as a difficulty (often labeled as a disability) with reading. Letters and numbers get jumbled – a source of mirth for those who make jokes about it without understanding it. Some of those jokes are funny even for those with dyslexia, sometimes they’re funny in an unintended manner. It’s easy to laugh at something you don’t understand, and of which perhaps you are a bit afraid. When you laugh at our ‘disability’ you show us yours. Those who think differently than you do can be quite scary as they may ask you to step outside of your comfort zone into theirs – which can feel as though you’re stepping into a Twilight Zone. Your mind doesn’t want to do that and so it decides that any way but yours is wrong and then expects others to conform to that way. If enough minds do this together something becomes the ‘right’ way, something else becomes the ‘wrong’ way, and we all miss out on what lies beyond.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
Dyslexia for those who have it is a curse when dealing with those whose brains are wired otherwise, and that’s pretty much what the educational system is like for us as it was not designed for the way that our brains are wired (but what if it had, and what if our type of wiring was the ‘norm’).
However in a system beyond that, one where our wiring is the ‘right’ way, it is a blessing. We’re predominantly visual and sensory. Virtual reality is our home. Those puzzles which require intense visualisation, dismantling an object and then reconstructing it, imagining the pieces connecting and coming together, making a 3-D model, spinning something around 360 degrees in our mind’s eye is easy for us. Which is why we’re quite adept at putting together a piece of Ikea furniture without the instructions.
And our jumbling of letters make us natural anagram generators. Some people actually need software for that. Don’t play Scrabble with someone who has dyslexia unless you want to lose.
Sometimes what is wrong with us is what is right with us. We just need to see it that way and stop seeing it the other way to tap into it and then build upon it.
“For too long, we’ve assumed that there is a single template for human nature, which is why we diagnose most deviations as disorders. But the reality is that there are many different kinds of minds. And that’s a very good thing.” – Jonah Lehrer
Sometimes our nature is our greatest teacher, especially when it poses us with our greatest challenge – which can at times be the nature of others versus ours, and their need to be right (ergo others have to be wrong) when perhaps such a thing does not exist.
The photos included in this post are of a snowdrop – one day it was Spring and the next day it was Winter, yet still it grows, learning as it does so.
I’m learning to use a new camera and these were taken as I learn hands-on how to work with a new tool. I snapped these as part of my learning curve. The old camera was a part of me, it saw what I saw, felt what I felt, we were one and the same. Snap snap and I had what I knew would be there. With this one I’m still in the getting-to-know-you stage of the relationship.
I could read the instruction manual, I have tried, but doing things this hands-on, visual, sensory, way is how I learn, really learn until it becomes more than that, second nature, maybe even nature itself, a part of mine and me a part of it. It may take me longer to learn this way, I may have to reside in the realm of insecurity for what feels like an eternity because of it, feel very stupid along the way, but it will push me to be creative, think outside of the box, in how I do things, see things, experience the nature of things, but it keeps me in a comfort zone of discomfort where I am always aware of learning and I learn a lot in this way.
Nature is a wonderful teacher, be it human nature, your nature or that of others, or the natural world. Whatever the season at any given moment, let yourself grow.
“I’ve learned that if you make your primary goal teaching your child to read or spell just like every other child, you’re going to decrease your child’s chances of achieving success. It’s like telling a person in a wheelchair that she needs to put in more time to learn how to walk.”
― Ben Foss, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan