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  • Writer's pictureThe Dyslexia Initiative

The Pawn, The Knight, The Rook & The Queen

by Ashley Roberts

I have spent my career writing and managing contracts as well as sponsoring and participating in negotiations. I have undergone trainings and been tested on my ability to negotiate by a rather large oil and gas firm.

In one of my roles I was the "pinch hitter," in other words I was the one that got thrown into hostile negotiations to salvage them before they went to litigation yet still deliver the desired outcome for the company. I was good at it.

I am good at it.

Within negotiation there is a spectrum, and it looks like this:

All the way on the right are the hard asses. You know them well. They're unyielding and uncompromising. There is only one way for the negotiation to end and that's give them everything they want. They win solely and completely. They do not care about you, your team, desires, goals, whatever. You do not matter in the least. Victory is their only desire and they will achieve it at all costs.

All the way on the left are the gullible ones, for lack of a better term. You only have to show your teeth once and they'll give you everything you want just to make you go away. They do not negotiate out of self interest, but out of fear. They are easy to manipulate and control. It's an easy win because it's so easy to take advantage of them.

The ideal negotiator will land in the middle. This is the Win:Win part of the spectrum. These negotiators can see both sides of the argument and because they can see both sides they can successfully navigate to an equal win on both sides, but do not underestimate them. They can make it seem like the opposing side wins, when in fact they lose. This is part of their skill. They are capable of moving up and down the spectrum as needs fit. They are the one to watch, the one to be wary of, the one that should never be underestimated.

I fall in the middle.

I spend hours strategizing every meeting. I play through scenarios, arguments, counter arguments, possible responses, and plan my course of action in every possible scenario. I am very rarely surprised or caught off guard. To catch me off guard it has to be so left field as to be out of the realm of reasonableness. I've been sexually harassed, screamed at, physically threatened, bullied, lorded over, and more, and that was all within the realm of possibility; so none of that caught me off guard and I was able to both manage it, and prevail.

The negotiation room is my arena. If you want to play, I'm your huckleberry.

So with all of my knowledge and skill, the negotiation room sitting across from the educational establishment is the most topsy-turvy environment I've encountered to date, but it's because all of the rules of engagement have been thrown away.

Consider this, as a means of explanation. Any negotiation should be a chess board. All things being equal, both sides are equitable coming into the arena. One side is black, the other is white, with an equal number of pieces, and an almost endless possibility of moves and counter moves.

White moves first.

In the educational arena, white is always the parent as it's almost always the parent that makes the first move in requesting testing.

But, the black side assumes it's an imbalanced game. They assume white is playing with only a portion of their players, and that in 3 moves or less the queen will be captured and the king will fall.

And, it is indeed an imbalanced game, but not for the supposition above. It is imbalanced because of a perceived balance of power by black and it is rife with emotion and abuse. It is imbalanced because black thinks they're shrouded in mist, that no one can see, that their moves will be mysterious, surprising, and that the death blow to their opponent will be the biggest surprise yet.

It is disheartening because it is a complete underestimation of the opponent, and for the record, it's playing from the far right of the spectrum, i.e. I Win - You Lose with the I being the school, with some tactical malarkey going on.

What do I mean and why does this happen?

This happens because with the way the balance of power has shifted over the last 40 years so that the parents role in education, the value assigned to the parent, and the power the parent represents over their child has been diminished to a meaningless value.

In what way meaningless?

Meaningless in numerous ways including true authority over the child i.e. say so, family ideology, respect for the parent as an individual, respect for the child, a desire for collaboration with the parent, the belief that the parent is a true equal in the education of their child, the devaluing of the child as a physical being, as a child with a child's psychology, i.e. that of a child, as a creature of emotion, or on any level of individuality.

So due to this underestimation, black plays from a strategy whereby it is assumed that white has no knowledge or value and will fold within a few moves, or rather like I said above, is playing without all the pieces and will resign in three.

Black banks on the fact that their play will remain shrouded in mystery.

The parent that enters the game fully knowledgeable and with the skill to play, is the bean counter's version of that parent willing to go the true distance, and therefore the financial risk that they're willing to tolerate.

Sadly, there is only one side that plays for the sake of the child, white. None of black's moves are for the child, but for a greater political agenda that few understand, the logic of which is perplexing, and has nothing to do with actual education.

The funny thing is the math doesn't add up. If there is a bean counter they should be fired. The total cost to the American public is undeniable if you evaluate the annual cost of both education and prisons as well as other ramifications. The cost of illiteracy to the country is overwhelming and growing. Maybe the bean counter is the result of Core Curriculum where simply if they can make a good enough argument for their theory then they must be right, correct?


So while it should be fair, balanced and equitable, while it should truly be focused on the life of the child that is hanging in the balance on the outcome of that game, while it should not be a game, or even a negotiation but a true and real collaboration, it's not. What it is is a chess board, where the only chance that white has to win is to change the game by changing the laws that govern, by changing the balance of power, by reasserting parental rights and taking back education.

While negotiation is my arena and I'm an ideal opponent, this isn't a game I want to play, but play I will if play I must; and I must because of the little creature in my life who calls me mom. It is for him that I play. It is for him that I must not be dismissed by an opponent who does not see me as an equal and who does not see my child as worthy of their energy, time or investment.

And, we must be the bean counter's worst nightmare because our mission is to empower others to play this game, and to play it well, and to unite our community to change education forever.

Because this is the cost of illiteracy; these are the stakes that black is inflicting on our society, on our country:

As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one. [Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy. "Reach Higher, America Overcoming Crisis In The U.s. Workforce." National Commission on Adult Literacy. Accessed April 16, 2014]

50% of US adults cannot read a book written at an 8th grade level. [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, cited by the Washington Post, Hiding in Plain Sight: The Adult Literacy Crisis, 2016]

53% of 4th graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20% of 8th graders could say the same. [National Center for Educational Statistics, "The Condition of Education, 2009", U.S. Department of Education, February 24, 2015]

Of adults with the lowest literacy levels, 43% live in poverty, and 70% of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels. There is a clear correlation between more education and higher earnings, and between higher educational scores and higher earnings. [The National Institute for Literacy &]

1 in 4 children in American grow up without learning how to read. [WriteExpress Corporation. "Literacy Statistics." Begin to Read. Accessed April 16, 2014]

32 million adults in the US cannot read. [US department of Education & the National Institute for Literacy]

Students who don’t read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school. [The Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Students Who Don’t Read Well in Third Grade Are More Likely to Drop Out or Fail to Finish High School.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Accessed February 25, 2015.]

19% of high school graduates do not have proficient reading abilities and 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. [Write Express Corporation. “Literacy Statistics.” Begin to Read. Accessed February 24, 2015.]

Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate. [Blankenship, John: "Functional illiteracy continues to grow, but there is help.", The Register-Herald, April 16, 2014]

Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. These children are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, have high absentee rates, repeat school years, or drop out. [National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) &]

$232 Billion - An excess of $230 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy. Nearly half of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information. Lack of understanding impedes adults’ abilities to make appropriate health decisions and increases the likelihood that they’ll incur higher health costs. [American Journal of Public Health &]

$225 Billion - Individuals at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels have a higher rate of unemployment and earn lower wages than the national average. Low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment. [National Council for Adult Learning (NCAL) &]

Teenage girls between 16-19 who live at or below the poverty line and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than girls their age who can read proficiently. [WriteExpress Corporation. "Literacy Statistics." Begin To Read. Accessed February 24, 2015]

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