SLRD – Slow Learning Reading Disability. That is what I was labeled entering high school. I had a speech impediment. I could not say certain sounds correctly which made entire words sound wrong. That is odd to say looking at my life now as a voice talent, speaker, and radio/tv personality but it is true. I also read slowly, mixed up lines, and had trouble retrieving words leading to another label; dyslexic. I never felt what some would call dumb or slow but I was very conscious of the fact that I was not the smartest. I did not understand it but was okay with falling in the middle as just average.
I accepted my mediocrity which really made it a challenge for me to understand why they were forcing me into “special” classes meant to help a problem I did not have until they slapped that label on me and told me I had it. I was completely distraught. I did not want to be pulled out of “normal” classes, separated and treated like some special case that could not learn. I would come home visibly upset.
Fortunately, I had a mom who was willing to fight for my potential. She made countless trips to counselors, school administrators, and teachers until they cringed when they saw her coming. She was willing to fight until the label, and all the it implied, was removed from her child. Eventually, it was. They put me in “regular” classes, I graduated high school, then college with high honors, then graduate school, and continued my life’s work and even given an honorary doctorate. The odds were against me achieving any of that while living within the confines of the special education system.
I have been an educator for 20+ years. I started in higher education then transitioned into Adult Basic Education teaching GED courses. In one program, I teach young adults. The effects of the societal and educational labels we give are so obvious. Their entire life, they have been told they were “dumb,” “stupid,” “slow,” and worse from teachers, parents, and friends. Now, they identify themselves by those labels. Even more so, they hold a sense of entitlement to receive the accommodations those labels may afford. From being named as “low-income” and demanding the benefits of the social services/welfare system, to being called “learning disabled” and documenting it through IEP’s stating they need more time to perform tasks. They are never pushed, driven, or required to explore and meet their full potential.
Everyone has a different learning style. Everyone cannot be the smartest in the room. Our brains engage content and make connections at different speeds. Not everyone will excel at every thing but we do not have to declare that someone will fail at it either. Even more so, we should not let our educational system declare our children incapable either. Special education is divisive and sends a message of inferiority to those it stamps as learning or intellectually disabled. I know this from personal experience.
I would love to believe I am the only person to have experienced this but I am not. I see it every time one of my students master a difficult math concept, then turn to me and say with amazement, “See, I am smart. I am smart.” I do not have a solution for how to overhaul the special education system in our country. I will not pretend that is my lane. Mine is to educate all learning styles and teach anyone who desires knowledge. I am an educator, not a “special” educator.
I am also a mother; a key influence in how my daughter sees herself. That includes being a voice for her educational career. You are a voice for your children too. We cannot just send them to school then wait for report cards nor willingly accept any label others place on them. It is about active parenting. Be their advocate. Work to position them for their future success. Our children…all children…are worth fighting for.