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  • Writer's pictureThe Dyslexia Initiative

McCarthyism and Dyslexia

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

by Ashley Roberts

Most of us know who Joseph McCarthy was and the havoc he created in this country in the 1950's. For those that do not know the story, it's a dark time in American history where fear and suspicion ruled the day.

"McCarthy experienced a meteoric rise in national profile on February 9, 1950, when he gave a Lincoln Day speech to the Women's Club of Wheeling, WV. His words in the speech are a matter of some debate, as no audio recording was saved. However, it is generally agreed that he produced a piece of paper that he claimed contained a list of known Communists working for the State Department. McCarthy is usually quoted to have said: "The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."

One must bear in mind the times. The Soviet Union was roughly 30 years old, and while they had been allies of the US in WWII, they were the enemies of democracy and freedom, both of which have always been central to the American ideal.

The result was with that one speech, Senator McCarthy proceeded to drag people, both inside and outside of government, in front of congress to berate them with accusations of communist ties. True evidence was rarely, if ever, given, and in order to save themselves, people were pressured to name names of friends, family members and colleagues who were so-called communists.

Being named was all the proof McCarthy and his team needed to destroy lives, and from 1950-1954, McCarthy and his committee wrecked havoc.

The term "McCarthyism", coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy's practices, was soon applied to similar anti-communist activities. Today, the term is used more broadly to mean demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.

Was there a single catalyst that set the stage that Senator McCarthy so proudly stepped up to claim? The truth is there was no single catalyst, but several decades of violence and bloodshed for a war weary citizenry and the subsequent events over those decades made people afraid.

So, why do I bring up McCarthyism?

In the current educational environment there are two opposing sides, the publishing companies and their lobbyists, as well as educational establishment decision makers on one side, and the neuroscientists, dyslexia academics, advocates and parents on the other.

It makes me sad to say this, and this is not the case with every district, but the educational side is engaging in McCarthyism. Because of the change in education over the last forty years from family and child focused to publishing company driven agendas, it's become a game of us versus them. They're McCarthy, and we're just the accused. It's alive in terms like:

  • "What does the parent know, they're just a parent."

  • "Let's shame them for their lack of education knowledge by using edu-babble to put them in their place."

  • "This person isn't qualified to speak on this child's behalf."

  • "This person isn't qualified to speak on this child's behalf, and I don't care that they are the parent."

  • "I don't think this person is qualified to be an advocate."

Because of the denial of the right to literacy for our children, parents rely keenly on the skills of advocates to help them get the accommodations and services their children need. In states like Texas, where they uniformly denied services and placed dyslexia ONLY under 504 and not IDEA for years, the services of an advocate have been necessary to fight the system.

"I don't think they are qualified."

To do this in the halls and conference rooms of district offices, in the halls and offices of schools, out of sight of the parents who are about to arrive and sit down for a 504 or ARD / IEP meeting, the deck has been effectively stacked to support continued denial if the team can sit there and "know" that the "parent and advocate are clearly misquoting and misrepresenting IDEA and the needs to the dyslexic child; so we will deny because we're right and there's no 'academic need,' and they're wrong because they just don't understand. We know dyslexia and IDEA and we can safeguard the parent and child against this recklessness."

I say that a little "tongue and cheek," but sadly it is really and truly happening.

Now don't get me wrong. This is not teacher bashing. This is definitely bashing against those individuals in positions in education who are playing a political game, even if they don't realize it. You, my friend, are not serving the child or their education, you're serving a political dogma of denial.

I like my school team as individuals, I honestly do, they're good people at heart. The district reps they've thrown at me? Some yes, some absolutely not. But know this, I have yet to sit across from a single individual who understands a single word of IDEA, or even dyslexia for that matter. Truly.

Parents are best served by learning it themselves, and / or hiring an advocate to represent their child's needs and get their children what they really need, and when that fails, to use the legal system to obtain it, if the parent can go that route. I know IDEA and dyslexia extremely well, but I too hire an advocate from time to time to shake things up, and / or when I'm debating a specific topic on which I am not 100% confident I understand better than anyone else.

"I don't think they're qualified."

"The parent doesn't understand dyslexia."

"The parent isn't an educator, they do not know what they are talking about."

"The parent is just a parent, nothing more. We are the educators so we know better"









Before they even sit down their contribution is rendered meaningless, less than, dismissed. It is the definition of McCarthyism, and it is taking place in education. Sadly it is us versus them. We didn't make it this way, they did.

In the 1950's McCarthyism ended because a few brave souls stood up and refused to be called a communist without evidentiary proof, who refused to have their constitutional rights trampled on, and it didn't hurt that McCarthy himself helped fuel his own downfall.

But, as with all things, there was a tipping point where the madness had to end.

So where is our tipping point? How does the parent and advocate push back against this level of manipulation?

The answer is by keeping on fighting, refusing to give in. As we each learn more about dyslexia, develop new skills and new depths of understanding about the laws, we must keep fighting. We must understand the depth of what each meeting is up against, and with that understanding comes power. One cannot waver under the threat of McCarthyism, instead one must realize it's just another layer of denial and be a brave soul and stand against it, refusing to back down.

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