LIFE and Dyslexia
My mother-in-law knew something about LIFE and dyslexia. Way back during the Depression, when it was rather unusual for a woman to go to pursue higher education, Helen earned her degree at Rhode Island College, and taught third-graders for many years. She knew that some of the smartest students in her classes struggled mightily to learn to read, and she patiently worked one-on-one with them to teach them through phonics and repetition.
My husband John remembers that throughout his childhood his mom often tutored neighborhood children at the kitchen table—again, smart kids who just couldn’t seem to figure out how to read.
Helen never spoke much to me about her teaching techniques, and by the time I learned about as much as I now know about dyslexia, Helen had already passed on–just weeks short of her 97th birthday. But in her belongings, she left a gift that showed me she knew.
Back in the day, everyone subscribed to LIFE—and saved the important issues—like JFK’s assassination, the astronauts landing on the moon and the resignation of Richard Nixon. Helen saved those, and one more that mattered to her:
The issue of LIFE Magazine dated October 6, 1972.
There are two stories blurbed on the cover: “Rough, Tough Pros”, about football players, and “Bright children who can’t learn—and how to help them,” about children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
Now my guess is that Helen did not save that issue for the football players. She saved it for the story about the childre.
It’s a major story, titled, “An agony of learning.” It’s about children who have learning disabilities, including dyslexia. It details the struggles of children in school before the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 that established special education services for federally funded schools. But what’s stunning is that so very little has changed, more than 40 years later: public lack of services vs. private school expenses; parents vs. administrators; a sense of confusion and bafflement about how to teach these smart children.
One mother was quoted, “I could cry when I think of my son sitting quietly in school, not making any trouble, being teased about his writing, trying hard to read as he pulls the book in and out, studying words, and I’m sure hating the whole thing. This, a boy who wants to learn everything.”
It’s the ending of the piece—in the section called “Getting Help”—that provides some very sad reality about the lack of action on the subject. The last paragraph of the multi-page article reads, “The greatest handicap for LD children at any age, however, remains ignorance—on the part of pediatricians, teachers, administrators and parents. At the present time, for example, most medical schools and specialty training programs do not prepare the pediatrician or family physician for the LD child—and most colleges do not offer a singe specific course on learning disabilities to any of their elementary or secondary school teachers in training.”
Those words, written in 1972, could have been written today. In all of the things left behind, this was the most important one Helen left behind., sending me a message from the great beyond. We simply can’t wait any longer to do right by these children who (still) struggle so unnecessarily in school. We owe the past—and the future—our action now.