I am left-brained; there’s no two ways about it. I think with words. I think linearly. I can only concentrate on one activity at a time if I am to do it justice. I’m mathematically challenged. I can’t hold a map in my head, and judging distances and sizes is an impossible task for me. But I’m incredibly fortunate, because most Americans are also left-brained, and therefore our educational system is geared towards those who think like I do. I had no trouble in school, because American schools were designed exactly for people like me.
My husband is right-brained. He thinks in symbols, and must translate his thoughts into words before he can communicate them to others; but since he is not limited to thinking in words, he can think of things for which there are no words. He is not limited to thinking chronologically; he has no sense of the passage of time. He can do twenty things at once and do them all well. He’s not great at math, but he’s a lot better at it than I am. He has an uncanny sense of direction and can measure objects and spaces at a glance. He has a genius IQ. But he struggled in school. American schools are not equipped to teach right-brained kids. Because they are unconventional thinkers and learn in ways other than rote memorization and reading, right-brained kids, no matter their superior mental abilities, are very likely to be labeled “learning-disabled”. Although he never had trouble reading, my husband would be called “dyslexic” if he were in the school-system today. He was fortunate–he grew up before the country’s educators invented this “disability”, and so never had to deal with this label.
I home-schooled my children. The first three were left-brainers, like me. It was easy to teach them, because they learned best the same ways I learn best. We had loads of fun together. By the time my fourth child was ready for school, I was a veteran home-school mom. I had it down! I could teach standing on my head with one hand tied behind my back. My fourth child did not know this. She is right-brained, like my husband. She struggled with reading, and all the teaching techniques that I had learned in the past, all the things that had worked so well with my other children, did her no good. Was this because there was something “wrong” with her? Of course not! I just had to let go of my entrenched teaching methods and re-learn how to teach in ways that would benefit her.
I spent months researching, and then I was ready to try again. I’m not saying it was not difficult. I was very often teaching in ways that seemed foreign to me, and it was hard to make myself think in such a different way. My kid was unhappy, also. She hated reading. She hated spelling. But we muddled through, learning together, and today as she finishes her second year of high school, I doubt anyone would ever guess that she is dyslexic. She reads better than most kids her age, she has an intuitive grasp of math, and absorbs science like a pro.
Here’s the secret: I never told her she had a learning disability. Because honestly, she really doesn’t. She thinks differently than the majority of Americans, but it is a strength and a gift, not a disability. The fact is, most “dyslexics” are highly intelligent–most of the world’s true geniuses were right-brained and would have been called dyslexic if they had been subject to today’s educational system. The disability is in the schools and the teachers, not in the children. Just as I had to re-learn how to teach, schools should re-learn how to present material to students in a way that will benefit all of them, not just the left-brainers.
I guess what I would like to see is an acknowledgement of the facts by our educational system. Right-brained thinkers are not problems–they are assets to our society. Most of the creative and inventive advances in our modern world are due to right-brainers, who can think outside of the box more quickly and creatively than we plodding left-brained folks can. Rather than ostracizing these kids by negatively labeling them and separating them from the rest of the school body, we should be encouraging them and helping them learn to use their gifts, for their own sakes and for ours. We should be teaching all of our kids to respect and understand differences in thought processes; not only to accept these differences, but to value them and embrace them. Think what the world would be like today if the likes of Leonardo DaVinci, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, or Thomas Edison had been told that they had an “incurable neurological disability” as one website puts it? This site describes these famous people, among others, as “sufferers of dyslexia”. Did they truly “suffer”? I’m pretty sure they would take issue with such terms. I do know for certain that my husband suffered from the lack of understanding of his teachers in the 1960’s; and if my daughter suffered from anything, it was from her mother’s lack of knowledge, not from her own mind’s make-up.
How about if we just stop labeling people altogether? Maybe we could just all be individuals. My linear, word-oriented left brain thinks this would work for the best. So does my kid’s creative, symbol-oriented right one.