The Year of Dyslexia

The Year of Dyslexia
Josh Clark, Head of School

I grew up with my father’s harrowing stories of walking ten miles to school in the rain, snow, sleet, hail, and heat. While I never understood how one small area could contain so many weather patterns, I knew better than to ask. When not traversing back and forth, my father spent his school years working at McDonald’s and still credits himself as inventing the Egg McMuffin. As a child, when I complained about too much homework or my boring teachers, he was quick to remind me that at least I did not have to sprint past old Mrs. Wilson’s rabid and unchained dog, the smell of french fries wafting behind him.

Like all myths, these stories were no doubt kernels of truth wrapped in exaggeration and meant to teach me a lesson. As a parent, I find myself tempted by the same distorted sense of school-age nostalgia. I did not walk ten miles, but if I forgot my lunch, I just chewed rocks because there was no calling home.  If I did not know the answer, I had to rely on my 1987 Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of the truth. And as I often remind my son when he complains about having to practice his Learned Words, “Well in my day, dyslexia was not even an option!”

I imagine many of us share similar experiences. You were either struggling so much that you were put in a special education program that vastly undervalued your potential, or you were told to just work harder. Even after graduating from high school and studying education at Indiana University for four years, it was not until I began teaching and noticed exceptionally bright students who had an unexpected difficulty learning to read, write, and spell that I even began to learn about dyslexia.

While the term dyslexia was first used in 1887, and Anna Gillingham began using Dr. Samuel Orton’s research to work with children in the early 1930’s, as far as I can tell, dyslexia did not exist in 1980’s Collierville, Tennessee. 

David Schenck had been revolutionizing education for over 20 years at that point, and even then, I believe he knew he was building a vehicle for systematic change and not just a safe harbor for a few. As The Schenck School approaches its 60th anniversary, I think David would laugh at our surprise that we also are entering the year of dyslexia. 

On May 2, I joined current and former Schenck School families and students as we watched Governor Brian Kemp sign the Georgia’s first dyslexia legislation. While only a beginning, this law symbolizes an important recognition that we can and must do more for the tens of thousands of dyslexic learners in our state. 

Beyond Georgia, dyslexia and The Schenck School are even on the international stage. Through our partnership with Made By Dyslexia and Microsoft, in just over three months, more than 65,000 educators have learned about dyslexia from Richard Branson, Keira Knightley, and Schenck School teachers. The recent Made By Dyslexia Showcase hosted by the School has 16,000 Facebook views to date.  While it is no doubt a good time to be dyslexic, there is still tremendous progress to be made. The vast majority of young people with dyslexia continue to go undiagnosed. In the media and even within schools of higher education, the science of dyslexia is ignored, and damaging misconceptions are spread.

We cannot become complacent with our success, and instead we must wave David’s banner high and proudly. As more resources and information about dyslexia become available, it is our job to educate the masses.

My hope is that one day all of our children will lament to our grandchildren, “You know, in my day, schools did not just screen everyone for dyslexia and then give them the appropriate support! No, in my day, you had to work for it!”