Able disable

          Figuring out the learning disability of a kindergartner is like being a mechanic figuring out what is wrong with the car. Kindergartners aren’t able to tell you what their problem is in regards to reading and writing. To be honest they have difficulty telling you what obstacles they have with a lot of things but that is a topic for another day.

          Children in general have difficulty explaining and expressing themselves and that is why more and more parents are sharing sign language with their infant children so that they can better express themselves.

          But as a tutor I am more interested in children’s ability to express themselves and to receive information in written form. A child who has dyslexia or ADD might not know it but it often shows up in how they behave and what their completed assignments look like. If a child is repeatedly turning letters upside down or backwards that is a good sign. But if a child simply cannot read easy words (and by easy I mean two letter words at six months into the school year when all of their peers can), then it is a sign that something else is going on. You can’t ask them what their disability is because they don’t know they have a disability. Therefore you can’t find a way to fix it or work around it because even you don’t know exactly what the problem is.

          That is part of my job as a tutor. I don’t just work with them to teach them how to read and write. Sometimes I work with them to determine how they are going to be able to read and write. My hope is to make it possible for them to skip past any obstacles they might have where it comes to reading and writing. I believe that if you can read and write you have gained the keys to the world.

          I believe being able to express yourself and gather information on your own are the most valuable tools you can have as a human being. Consider it this way – if a child has a club foot it is best that the deformity gets fixed early on so that it doesn’t hamper their ability to walk in the future. I believe that not being able to read or write is a problem that can be fixed. But consider if you have a child who is limping but you can’t figure out why. There’s no obvious sign of a physical problem. You’ve looked at their feet, their ankles, their knees, their back and there’s no good reason for why they are walking poorly.

          Encountering a child who has a learning disability but who also does not have English as her first language compounds the problem. It is also entirely likely that her parents are unschooled, which is common with immigrants from poor countries. The parents might not know how to read because they have never gone to school.  Thus, they were never able to read to their child, which will result in the child also being illiterate. But it might also be that she has inherited a learning disability from her parents as well.

We have failed our boys.

We have failed our boys. Every day I see more and more boys who say they don’t want to read. Knowing how to read but choosing not to is the same as being illiterate. The result is the same whether they know how to read but don’t or they never knew how. Every day I see boys who – if they read at all, read far below their age level, only able to read books that have many pictures in them. They are either unwilling or unable to read a book that has only words in it. They choose graphic novels and comic books if they choose books at all. There’s a whole series of books geared towards boys now that are written very simply and have many illustrations in them. It is as if they need training wheels in order to read. It is a disturbing trend.

Then if they read, the subject matter is concerning. Their parents steer them toward “boy” books. “Girl” books are about relationships – sharing, making friends, learning how to compromise. “Boy” books are about relationships as well – dominating others, being a soldier, being in charge. They learn this script too well. They learn that they must control every relationship they are in. They learn nothing about sharing or cooperating. Anything other than domination is seen as a failure. It is easy to see that it is impossible for everyone to be a winner with such a scenario. This sets them up for a lifetime of disappointment.

We have failed our boys. By telling them that “boys don’t cry” we are telling them that they are not allowed to express their emotions. Those feelings have to go somewhere. When you don’t allow someone to cry the feeling turns around upon itself and transforms, metastasizes, goes dark.

We have failed our boys. When we say “boys will be boys” to excuse bad behavior we’re saying that they don’t have to try better. We’re saying that there’s no reason for them to act in a respectful manner. Any behavior that you would want to see in your boy when he grows up into a man should be encouraged when he’s young. When we let boys get off the hook from punching others or pulling on girl’s pigtails (or worse forms of abuse), we are saying that they are not accountable for their actions.

Is all of this why so many acts of violence have happened recently? Is this why so many boys and young men have decided to express themselves, to be heard, to be noticed, by taking a gun into a public place and shooting random strangers? Have we done this to ourselves?

More importantly how can we make it stop?

“Computer illiterate”

Fairly frequently, people come into the library and they tell us that they are “computer illiterate” and they ask if there is someone who can help them with the computers.

They don’t ever tell us that they are illiterate and want someone to read the books to them.

Several years ago, they would say this with a certain amount of pride, like it was a good thing. They would say it as if dealing with computers was something that other people did, and they were above it. They would say it as if computers were just a passing fad that they could ignore.

They’ve started to realize that they aren’t going away, and that being “computer illiterate” isn’t such a great thing.

The library does teach classes in computers. They are free, and open to everybody. Our system also has books and DVDs that teach you how to use a computer if you can’t get to one of the classes.

The odd part is that often the people who say this are those who have to get on the computer to apply for a job. These days, a lot of job applications are online. No paper, no typewriter. It is all online, in part because the job itself uses computers. If you can’t fill out the application, you probably can’t do the job.

It is a hard, cold truth.

These days, being computer illiterate is the same as being illiterate. It is out in the cold, left behind, stuck with a low paying job.

The funny part is that these same people will say that their seven year old grandchild does better at computers than they do. The funny part there is that the only reason that a seven year old can work it is that the five year old doesn’t know he can’t. He just looks at it and tries. He thinks about the options and gives the best available one a try. If it doesn’t work, he tries something else. This is how anyone learns anything. Try. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Maybe they should get their grandchildren to teach them how to work a computer, and for that matter, life in general. Maybe they have forgotten that the secret to everything is to give it your best guess and see what happens.