Perhaps because my mother continually received calls from teachers dismayed at my "underperformance" in school, it was not a surprise to learn that my older son was being assigned a reading specialist, since he was having trouble keeping up with the other children in his first grade class.
I was willing to carve out 90 minute slots for people I didn't know. Why wasn't I willing to carve out slots for my children, especially when they needed me?
So Ben started coming to my office Mondays and Wednesdays after school to work on homework. It quickly became apparent that reading was a big issue. He didn't want to do it. It made him feel stupid. He felt the other kids were making fun of him. It was hard. He was forced to read "baby books", where he still failed.
The last statement made me see red. But in fact his reading was awful.
One day, I held up a book in front of me so I was peering over the top. Something told me to watch his eyes as he read. Instead of making linear left-to-right movements to follow text, his eyes appeared to jump all over. As I watched, the apparently random pattern began to resolve into the pattern of the illustrations.
So I retyped the text of the book into a Word document, one sentence per page, 36 point type.
I put it in front of him. He read, with great difficulty. My heart sank. But as he was dressing to go home, he said, "Dad, reading was a lot easier without the pictures. Can we do it again?"
Over the past few months, we've read, covering the pictures with white paper.
And why not? This is a boy whose visual intelligence is truly precocious. Little kids' books are richly illustrated. What's more interesting - the images or the text? Clearly, for Ben, it's the images. I can't blame him. Covering the pictures is the only way to make the text interesting.
A technique for teaching reading is to have kids focus on the pictures for clues to the words meanings. But for kids like Ben, the pictures are more interesting and complex in context than the words.
Everyone missed this.
Experts are taught to be experts in a technique or a set of techniques. It's impossible to become deep in multiple areas, which means that experts are self-limiting in their breadth. They're the 80 in 80-20 solutions. For us 20s, it is imperative that we use our own wits to arrive at practical solutions.
So I don't blame them, but it makes me worried about the kids who don't have parents who can take work hours to focus on their issues, or who don't have access to resources who can help figure out the unique needs of each child. It's left me with an overwhelming sense of how truly lucky I and Ben are and a question about how to help the kids who don't have his advantages.