by Ashley Roberts
In more ways than I can imagine the universe has been speaking to me a lot lately. I've been having the most interesting exchanges, whether it's been in conversations, comments on our page, or just a series of events that leads to introspection.
Despite the title, I'm going to work backwards to my point, by first sharing the attached article:
The CEO of a company I used to work for was a big fan of the Harvard Business Review and hosted a brown bag lunch once a month for a group of us. He would personally print and copy enough of the article he wanted to focus on for every employee in the company, then go place them in our mailboxes. If intrigued, we showed up for the brown bag lunch and discussed. I always showed up, but that's beside the point. Oddly enough. the above is the only article I recall discussing as it's impact was indelible.
What the attached boils down to is that in all communication there is noise. With the original speaker there is the intention versus what is said, then there is the space in between where the setting, associations, personal dynamic, etc. play a further role in the noise of the message. Now to further complicate this the listener then introduces his / her own noise meaning their own thoughts, interpretations and emotions will shape and change the message even further. Basically communication is like that old game telephone played with two tin cans and a string.
The noise is not something we see or maybe even realize, but the key thing is that it exists in every conversation whether written or spoken. The message intended versus the message received can be two wildly different things. Just think of all of your communications where someone thought you said something you didn't think you said. It's happened to all of us.
This is where active listening comes in. We have to work to be understood just as much as we have to work to understand. All parties in the conversation are equally responsible for ensuring the communication isn't misunderstood.
Now, that's easy to say, right?
What advocacy more than any other medium has taught me, is that some people are never going to hear what I have to say. Pain and emotion are the greatest noise makers, and to quote myself, once entrenched in their position, there's nothing one can say or do to remove that person from their trench. When debating with others how to solve the barrier that is the person in the trench, I've always gone further to say that they've not only dug the trench, but they're facing the wall with their fingers stuck in their ears shouting as loudly as possible, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU! YOU'RE WRONG! I'M RIGHT!!" Once the opposing person is in that position it is impossible to budge them. They've decided that this is the hill (or trench to keep with my metaphor) that they are going to die defending.
What is even more amusing to me about that is that most advocates I know have few hills they are willing to die on. We understand the fight we are in for our children is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. We also understand that our chances of actually helping our children in the here and now aren't that great. We know this is a long game, and we are all working to make enough noise now to show everyone we're here and we aren't leaving, but, at this point, we're all in this to ensure our grandchildren don't suffer like our children are suffering.
So, now that I've explained noise, let me explain what a savvy communicator does. We know the noise exists, and we use it to our advantage. This means a variety of things.
I have changed how I communicate knowing that the personality or various factors of the person I needed to communicate with would only hear me if I presented my communication in a specific way. In other words, I've presented myself in a variety of emotional undertones, to get my message across. This is simply good communication. In other words, I don't charge ahead with one singular tone, without a single care for the other person. I know people who do this and they don't get far, nor do they have many friends.
Communication requires a certain amount of both sympathy and empathy.
Without it, it's not communication, it's a confrontation.
Which leads me to the second half of my point....
I've said it before and I'll happily say it again, and keep saying it for anyone not paying attention, here at The Dyslexia Initiative we are NOT going to ignore the truth of or gloss over what happens to our children to protect anyone's emotions.
There have been so many great articles about the weaponization of both love in the educational field and the protection of teachers as a means of intimidation against parents.
The battle for our children cannot sacrifice the hard truths in order to protect the emotions of teachers. We as a movement cannot keep repeating ourselves that our movement isn't an attack on teachers. There needs to be certain handshake agreement about what is and what isn't fact here.
Teachers too cannot look at a movement like dyslexia and literacy advocacy and assume that it's an attack on teachers. That correlation is emotional, but it certainly isn't logical. We need to move past the insinuation that it is.
Here's why, and again I've said this before in this blog, https://www.thedyslexiainitiative.org/post/i-can-t-make-you-happy, we cannot place the proper emphasis on the devastation being laid waste to our children in the educational system if we have to censor ourselves so that teacher's don't feel attacked. It cannot be one or the other. Truly. I've spent my entire career in negotiation, and there is always a balance in being able to shift forward, but WHEN ONE SIDE PLAYS WITH A HANDICAP, THEY WILL ALWAYS LOSE!
By forcing the dyslexia and literacy advocates to play with the handicap of working hard to never insult the teaching profession, we are not going to advance our cause.
I wish I could remember the article well enough to Google it so I could paste it here, but recently one was published that said that education, unlike any other profession on the planet, is one where if you insult / challenge one you insult / challenge the entire profession. If that is going to be the case then how on earth can anyone ever instill change?
The answer is they won't!
We as human beings, in all capacities, but as stated at all times in communication, must have sympathy and empathy, if effective communication is going to happen. When one side is handicapped from being able to share their rather painful truth, they are in essence talking to the person in the trench who has their fingers in their ears and is screaming, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
So since DI was accused of pontificating yesterday in an assumed attack on teachers, let me make one thing perfectly clear, we will never stop sharing the truth of what is happening to our children. It's an ugly truth, it's rotten really, festering under the pom poms and football games and colorful posters in our schools every single day. It's the dirty gargantuan secret, just look at the NAEP scores because it's far more than just our dyslexic children who are being left behind, that everyone in education wants to pretend isn't really there. The fix isn't going to be in more standardized testing, nor will it be in Lucy Calkins' latest PR spin, I mean patch, to her already highly disproven and failure of a curriculum.
And so whether or not you think "this is your truth," let me just say now that is a flawed argument. The data is there right in front of you, even if you've never heard the word "dyslexia" or not. Every single day, in every single classroom in this country, there is at least one child, but statistics prove it's more than one, being left behind. Every day, every year, more and more children become that one child. That child feels pain, shame, guilt and more.
Every time that child is asked to read and suddenly gets an upset stomach, or acts out, or stares out the window, or whatever they do to avoid reading, they feel pain.
Every time they are asked to try harder they feel pain.
Every time they're told to have their parents sign their bad grade on their homework, they feel pain.
Every time you sigh, and roll your eyes, or say "never mind" and move onto the next child, they feel pain.
Every time they look at you and smile or ask you a question, and they are dismissed, they feel pain.
The fact is that this is abuse, and it should enrage everyone that they are ignored, dismissed, shamed, passed over, taunted, teased, bullied, and more by the ONE PLACE that is SUPPOSED to be DEDICATED to EDUCATING THEM, but instead, we keep talking about it year after year, 504 and IEP after 504 and IEP, assuming the child is even lucky enough to get one of those, but even with one, they still aren't going to get the help they need.
And that child will remember those events, that pain, that trauma, that denial, their entire lives with the same clarity as if they had been beaten.
So, here I am, communicating with empathy to everyone listening, that this movement is over defending it's actions and words for the sake of someone OTHER THAN THE SUFFERING CHILD.
This is not about "when you know better you do better." That wonderful quote by Maya Angelou is being abused by the institution that is failing our children. We, the dyslexia and literacy advocates do know better, and we are DEMANDING BETTER. We will not rest. We will not give in. We will never tire.
This is our truth. This is our noise. And, as for me, I'll sleep when I'm dead.
To close, I want to leave you with one final quote. This comes from a parent who commented on our page yesterday. Her words were so eloquent and summed up our movement extremely well.
"We, parents, aren't trained in IDEA, IEPs, ADA, 504s, FAPE, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, anxiety, peer-reviewed research, best practices instruction, the 13 disabilities recognized under IDEA: Specific Learning Disability being of great interest, OHI, etc, reading legalese, reading law briefs, locating OSEP and OSERS memos, making ourselves aware of the monumental expansion to FAPE that Endrew F. (2017) bestows upon our children. We read the Procedural Safeguards mandated by IDEA. We are simply parents. We take our self-education upon ourselves.
Knowledge of this information is in the best interests of our children, just as the basic information of what constitutes fever, is foundational to parenting.
On the flip side, for administrators and educators, who are legally bound to provide FAPE, a lack of education being provided is passing blame, passing the buck. Of course, we take offense. Educate yourselves. Read the research or the translation into lay terms. Move beyond your college education; the rest of us have recognized that our fields have changed rapidly in legalities and in practices.
Some of us have chosen to become advocates because so many children are denied FAPE day in and day out. Ignorance on the part of districts stopped being a reason and became an excuse decades ago. To become a part of the solution, educate yourselves, advocate for children, push for change in your districts, in your states, at the university level, and nationally.
Tomorrow, I go into yet another IEP meeting for a child sentenced to RTI for 2.5 years with no significant progress. Administrators and teachers were not taught in universities but were retrained by the State. State and Federal laws have been violated. Due to the denial of FAPE, this child came into school capable of performing at grade level if they had been identified; but five years or more of intense intervention will be required to correct the learning disabilities the district created by denying FAPE.
Your education is in your own hands. Children's lives are, too."