I Can't Make You Happy
Updated: May 20
by Ashley Roberts
The longer I exist in this world the more I understand.
I have existed so long in the professional world that it has changed me in many profound ways. Without realizing it or always even wanting to, I analyze every single situation for who the players are, what the desires of those players may be, temperaments, objectivity level, audience intended or otherwise, fall out both positive and negative, consequences of that fall out both positive and negative, who stands to gain or lose if that is even an objective, emotions, nuance, what's being said versus what isn't being said, etc. The list of what is analyzed shifts diametrically based on the situation at all times. Whether I want to or not, there's not a single interaction I have, unless it's my husband and child, where I'm not calculating intentions and outcomes.
That being said, the dyslexia public advocacy world for a parent is an interesting place in which to exist. Here's why. There are always multiple audiences (not in any specific order).
First audience: Parents
Second audience: Teachers
Third audience: Educational administrators
Fourth audience: Everyone else
Teachers are catered to far more than parents are in the public advocacy realm. Whether that's by design or not, parents are not included because the content is not accessible, meaning that there's an assumption made that every audience member has an educational degree so certain language (aka edu-babble) is the norm. That doesn't mean that parents can't access the material, it just means that terminology and content are geared to the classroom educator, not those supporting their children at home so parents are forced to utilize critical thinking and adapt while the rest of the audience isn't because the content is catered for them. Additionally instructional hours for programs, conferences, etc. are during working hours for parents so they have to take time off to attend or choose to miss out on opportunities for instruction.
This is why we founded DI, to be accessible to parents. They are our first audience, and that is very intentional.
Yet, to be a public advocate bears a certain amount of risk. Typically this is learned over the course of being a public advocate by most of us who engage. Here's what is true:
Regardless of the audience, the field before us is filled with landmines. There is no way to traverse the field, without stepping on landmines.
Because you cannot make everyone happy. It's not possible. Someone is always left behind, unhappy, insulted.
Fact: At this point in time there is no middle ground. There just isn't. I wish there was, and I even hope to help build it, but as I've stated in my personal blog, we are divided by a chasm that is almost impossible to traverse. Some are traversing it, at great risk to themselves, but they do it anyway. I applaud them all. Please keep going!
Fact: This is not going to be a simple road to change. We are going to have to break a few things, shatter some preconceived notions, smash some pedagogical ideals, destroy some hypotheses, to get to the point where all children learn to read. This won't be easy or painless. Some people are going to be vastly insulted along the way. Some will feel betrayed, misunderstood and left behind. The human condition is to defend what we believe, what we've been taught, so this won't go smoothly. I wish it could, but it isn't possible. I'm sorry that this is the case, but that's life.
Fact: Balanced Literacy fails children. It just does. There are no two ways around that teensy little extinction level meteor that is speeding to planet Earth. Could I put that nicer? Probably. Do I want to? No. Why? Because we are willfully creating an illiteracy crisis in this country and that needs to disturb and upset people.
At this point in time 9% of our American adult population is illiterate. 64% of our 4th graders do not read at proficient levels, and that gets worse by 8th grade with only 67% reading at proficient levels (https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/). As a country we spend $457 Billion a year on non-productivity in the workforce, crime and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment and health care costs related directly to low literacy. A child born to a parent of low literacy has a 72% chance of being in the lowest reading levels themselves, that means we are willfully and systemically creating generational illiteracy. What does this mean? What this means is the 9% of illiterate adults is a number that is only going to rise, and rise swiftly.
So, again, can I put it nicer that balanced literacy is a failure? Maybe. Should I? Will that change things? Will that speed up or slow down the efforts of advocates like myself to change the face of education? I don't think it will.
I can nicely share the statistics, frame them in a way that make them less threatening. I could do a lot of things differently, but that's not going to get the message across. The situation we are in needs to disturb us all. It needs to keep us collectively awake at night. Education has to be at the forefront of all policy at this point, or nothing else will matter. This is a non partisan issue.
Here's what else I know.
I have seen more abuse heaped onto parents asking their schools to help their children than I could ever believe was possible. I have seen high school seniors handed diplomas that could only read at a 2nd grade level. I have seen lawyers act like bullies to intimidate parents. I have seen aggression, retaliation, denial, abuse both physical and mental, condescension, apathy, and more.
So, here's a little fact. I'm pro-parent and pro-child. I will always be so first and foremost because I'm a parent with a dyslexic child. I've had to fight for my child's right to learn to read, and I had to pay for his right to read through private tutors because his school and his district did not care if he could read or not. Some of his teachers cared. Truly they did. The administrators did not care. They paid lip service only. They did not understand, nor do they ever have a desire to understand dyslexia.
Here's another little fact, I am also pro-teacher. For those teachers who want to challenge what they know, and believe there's something more to this reading thing then what they were taught at university, or what is espoused by their district pep rallies, it's them that I applaud. For those who have sat across from me in disgust, for those who will not even look at our page out of anger, for those who think I'm insane and misguided for supporting the science of reading, well, bless your heart.
(My fellow Southerners just fell out of their chairs laughing. For those who don't understand, find a Southerner and ask them to explain.)
Here's what I can't and won't help. I will not sugar coat the failure that is balanced literacy. I will not frame it in a way that appeases everyone. A message that serves one, cannot serve the other, and it is not possible to make everyone happy at once. If I frame the failure that is balanced literacy in a way that makes it easier to stomach for educators who were taught balanced literacy and are forced to teach it in their classrooms, and I understand that this is hard to hear, but that means I in essence dilute the damage that has been done, and if I dilute the damage, I disrespect the families whose children are failed by the system. Is that being melodramatic? Not in the least.
I will not be deferential or respectful to the purveyors of balanced literacy curriculums who have made millions off of the failure of our children to learn to read. They have FAILED our children and continue to do so every single day. I cannot, I will not be nice about this. I am incensed at the cruelty, at the traumatic impact that this has on a child's life. It is a Ponzi scheme and eventually there will be no one left to swindle because everyone will be illiterate.
If that is disrespectful or unprofessional then so be it. I will not apologize for it. It has to be said, often and loudly. I will not sugar coat the inability of our educational system to teach our children until the tide turns permanently and our children are reading with success.
Myself and my friends created The Dyslexia Initiative to raise awareness, and we will continue to do so, without apology. I can't make everyone happy, and I'd drive myself insane trying, so I'm not. What we will do however is stick to our mission. We are here to educate and empower, and sometimes that means sharing the cold hard truth, and all that comes with it.