It all came together…
It is now 4:30 in the afternoon on 3rd June when I am writing this. Since morning, in my mind, I have lived through my childhood and back. I lived through those experiences that I had faced when I was a kid. Until now, I didn’t quite understand how to explain what was actually happening.
The gravitation or pull towards negativity is always stronger than it is towards positivity. It is exactly the reason that I am more fascinated with language and words. So inevitably, I got attracted to Stephen Colbert’s talk show. In one of his recent episodes, he interviewed the rapper Killer Mike, who had given a heartfelt speech in Atlanta, the USA, on the subject of racial discrimination. It is in this interview, Killer Mike, advised everyone, especially, white citizens and allies to get educated about the current situation that is uproaring in their country. To do that, he referred to Jane Elliot, an educator. As always curiosity got the best of me, and I, ended up watching, this:
Now, I live in India. We don’t have the problem of racial discrimination. Although, we do have religious discrimination, which is more to do with one’s belief system than with the levels of melanin found in one’s body. At least, the basis of racial discrimination is grounded on scientifically proven, biological factors. How does one address or change someone’s religious biases? Religious biases are either philosophical or mythical in nature. It is like, a group of people who like the colour saffron, don’t like the people who prefer the colour green, and visa-versa. Really? How kiddish can this get?
However, I think India will remain India, and not become a dictator country until the people who live here love both these colours. As both these colours are needed to form our national flag. I think the answer lies in the Ashoka Chakra, the middle blue circle that binds both the colours. Ashoka Chakra is inspired by King Ashoka. He promoted Buddhism, so I think we should all turn Buddhist— then only, this conflict would end. Oh! I so wish it was possible. Though I do think that if we start to focus on the common aspect, i.e., we all are humans, and keeping that in mind, we can rise above any conflict. But, sometimes, living with so many tags bars us to see the root or the base on which we are all tagged; humanity.
However, my main focus is not to talk about that— the title must have already given you a hint. When I watched the above documentary, I got triggered. It was not because of the topic of discrimination based on colour, nor was it related to the discrimination, that I witness often, that is between Hindus-Muslims. I got triggered because of the way Jane Elliot had handled the students, especially, the girl who hadn’t brought her notepad and pencil. It was peculiar, and I recognised it. I paused the video, went to the bathroom, and cried; it had triggered my dyslexic complexity. Just so you know, I have a room of my own, and I don’t need to go to the bathroom to get my space. But, the pain was too severe. I had just responded and acted the way I did when I was in school— the bathroom was my escape/safe space.
After coming out and gathering my composure, I completed the documentary. However, Jane Elliot’s peculiar way of conducting that experiment left many questions unanswered for me. So, I started searching more about her work. I stumbled upon one of her interviews on The Rock Newman Show, where she talked about her experience of conducting this ‘blue eyes/ brown eyes’ experiment for the first time. It is there she mentioned that the first group of students that she ever worked with were “…mildly to severely dyslexic.” To see the full interview click, here.
Here is the documentary of Jane Elliot performing the experiment ‘blue eyes/ brown eyes’ for the first time:
It all came together. My doubts confirmed; my pains validated. Some of the experiences in my school days were so painful that I blocked them out. And those repressed memories now and then act-up without me being fully aware.
The worse experience was when my mother didn’t know how to work with me. Her trying to teach me something seemed similar to a Windows user trying to operate IOS for the first time (interesting fact: Steve Jobs had dyslexia). When she asked me to do or study something, I responded to her by doing exactly the opposite— I don’t blame her for losing her patience. However, when she found out about it, instead of understanding how to work with it, it stressed her out further. For her, it added another layer to the problem i.e. of shame. Why wouldn’t there be shame attached to it? The school, a community, which she had limited access to when she was young, rejected me, her daughter.
If this was the situation with my mother, I do not know where to start talking about the teachers in school. In short, they did exactly what Jane Elliot did to that girl who didn’t carry a notepad and a pencil, but the difference is, with me it happened every day and it was not an experiment. I am sure my counsellor and doctor tried to train the teachers, but, in reality, I could sense that they didn’t have much interest to learn or faith in the abilities of those students who are in the spectrum. I was not going to school to learn; I was going there to get abused. With that said, not all teachers were too harsh, but they were just marginally better in handling me and people like me.
Education is supposed to strengthen a student’s core academic foundation. If not able to do that, at least, don’t abuse them. The best way to handle this would be to first explain the students what is different about them, and then give them strategies to cope or work with it. In doing so, they will learn to develop their own method of learning. I also say this because the way dyslexia is acting out in me, will not be the same for another. So, having one particular way of teaching all dyslexic students might not be a good idea either; it might not work. Like, Jane Elliot says in The Rock Newman Show, “… it is much better to be an educator than a teacher.”
For me, the education system didn’t work well. There were so many things that were done in school, which inversely affected me, and weakened my foundations. Like, I was given scribe to pass my exams. One would say, what is wrong with that? The school was just trying to help you out and support you. Yes, superficially it may seem so, but in practice it weakened my concepts, taking away my opportunity to learn to manage myself and learn to trust my abilities. In what world is that correct? In what university is a scribe coming to write my papers for me?
One of the few good things that came out of schooling was that I was able to identify that my mind works differently. If a dyslexic mind does not have a “normal” way of learning, then they have other ways. Like, they are good at problem-solving and creative thinking. Wouldn’t it be better to help them develop those aspects further so that learning in life wouldn’t be a problem?
However, everything was not that bad. I was given extra time too, to give my exams which I consider to be a good idea. If the system is to remain unchanged and a dyslexic student needs to clear those exams, then the concept of getting extra time is not unfair in any terms. In third grade, my English teacher told the whole class an Aesop fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, hinting at me (later, which she confirmed in a parent-teacher meeting), trying to motivate me. Though I liked her intentions, I think the correct fable would have been The Fox and the Stork.
A few months ago, I had contacted my school counsellor/doctor, Dr. Bina Nangia, who had diagnosed me with dyslexia. She asked me to write something positive to encourage adults who are facing emotional problems coping up with dyslexia. After a lot of thought I realised that I can’t say anything positive about this situation where dyslexia is seen as a disorder or that it is something wrong and needs fixing.
If there is something that we have learned from these various discriminatory acts is that people tend to focus on self-definition— if it doesn’t define you/ your tribe, it doesn’t matter. And in some cases, it is even wrong!
So I tell all the people who are dyslexic that if others are not building bridges to understand you, learn their language. Oh! Yes, it is going to take some time, but do learn, so that you can S-P-E-L-L it out to them. Try to make them understand: First, you are not D-U-M-B, S-L-O-W, or U-N-I-N-T-E-L-L-E-C-T-U-A-L. And second, the way things are said, explained or taught is not processable to you. It is like trying to charge an iPhone with an Android phone charger, it will not work, and when forced, all that will happen is the phone/processor will get damaged and become slow.
Also, I will say that I don’t need to tell you anything as you are inherently a great problem-solver. Not only that, you are also highly resilient, so anyways it wouldn’t be easy to knock you out. However, a warning, NEVER invest your energies trying to learn anything in a standardized manner, which is usually expressed in 2D form. Remember, you connect to 3D, in other words, things that are physically comprehensible; you can touch, feel, see- we are more intimate learners. Try to innovate and find out your intimate method of learning. I don’t understand how can intimate learning style be perceived as a disorder? You are physically created to follow the road not taken. You cannot physically be just another brick in the wall— your mind doesn’t work that way. So, enjoy using it the way it works.
I do not think it is a coincidence that Jane Elliot took the idea of this experiment of brown eyes/ blue eyes from Hitler. I think if dyslexics and people on the spectrum were accepted and nurtured as they are, our history and present world would have looked quite different today. Anyways, a few of them who didn’t invest their energies trying to be ‘normal’ or mask, have changed the world already, like Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs.
So is Dyslexia a disorder?
Check this video from the British Dyslexia Association to know:
In India, there is only one movie (Taare Zameen Par) representing a dyslexic mind. In my opinion, the representation in that movie was very limited and, in certain places, incorrect, like calling dyslexia a disorder. What I can do to explain dyslexia is tell you what it is not, so here is a fun video debunking dyslexia:
In a world where being ignorant is no more an option, I thought, it will be a good idea to shed some light on this subject. There are many such subtle differences from one person to another, and it would be foolish if we define the concepts of our society, education and law on the basis of limited human experiences. We need to get over this primaeval tribe/herd mentality of believing that whatever is different is weak or unworthy.
Now here are some books to aid dyslexics understand what is dyslexia and develop strategies to manage it:
- Dyslexia Tool Kit for Tutors & Parents: What to Do When Phonics Isn’t Enough: This book is written by a mother, Yvonna Graham, and her dyslexic daughter, Dr. Graham, Alta E, who not only managed and coped with dyslexia, but also used it in creative ways to make a difference in the world by helping others.
- Dyslexia Decoded: A Systematic Approach to Dealing with Specific Leaning Difficulties That Worked with Real Life Cases: This book is written by Dr. Bina Nangia who has not only worked with me and helped me, she has worked with many children and adults over many decades to spread awareness and remove stigma around this topic. In this book, she breaks down and explain different methods of learning trying to encompass the whole spectrum of dyslexia.
Now, please watch those two documentaries again, but this time, focusing on for what it is intended.
Hope this blog makes you a little more curious about ‘The Other’.
Also, I am so happy that I am able to finish a blog after months. I have so many unfinished blogs staring at me on my dashboard—those will soon follow.
Stay safe! Stay kind!