I should start by introducing myself, my name is David Pescud and at aged eighteen I was diagnosed with dyslexia.  At the time I did not k...

David Pescud's Red Letter

16:49:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

David Pescud (http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201410/r1341661_18730433.jpg)I should start by introducing myself, my name is David Pescud and at aged eighteen I was diagnosed with dyslexia. 

At the time I did not know what it was and I certainly was not going to ask anybody.  This was 1965 and it was a different world. I think an interesting point though, was that I did not have enough confidence to ask, what dyslexia was. It is not unusual for an 18 yr old to be lacking in confidence.  I certainly had none. Well that’s not really true, I did not know what I had, and again this is a classic teenager state of affairs. So when we look at dyslexia and the effect it has on people we must be very careful to look at it through a clear prism. This is my attempt to bring to this conversation, a clear, experienced and balanced perspective on the situation. 

If we step away for just a minute from dyslexia and consider what do we know works for us as human beings and what doesn’t. The short answer is positive experience over negative experience will generally make a more rounded well-adjusted human being. Well if it so obvious why do we continue to send our children to schools who are incapable of dealing with a whole host of differences?  Because at the end of the day that’s what dyslexia is, it’s a difference not a disability.

The word disability itself brings forward negative connotations that place the user in a superior position to those they may be interacting with, because in using the word disability you have made a judgement that someone is unable to deliver something /anything to the norm. Frankly, if we use the word disability in this text it is my opinion that 90% of humanity is disabled. That’s not to say that we can’t understand our differences and create solutions that are positive. However, there are too many negative signals in our day today lives.  For example, a circumstance I heard of was when a couple who went to the marriage counsellor and the first question she asked them was what’s wrong with your marriage? I have often thought a better way to start might have been was to ask them what was good about your marriage? In this case, had the counsellor started with a positive, she may have moved the clients mindset into a different set of dynamics , for it is where your mind is that will control your future.

Disability is a word that we use today which I have a great deal of difficulty with. I don’t think it is appropriate in any situation, it is isolating, disenfranchising, and one step anyway from apartheid. 
So why am I writing this? So that perhaps people might understand through my story, what it is like to be different. What it is like to be ridiculed by ones school teachers, peers and pretty well everybody. Not occasionally, but every day and when they are not ridiculing you, you are doing it to yourself. In my day at school the method of teaching literacy to a dyslexic was to cane you. Of course, we do not do that anymore. We have found much more subtle ways of making someone feel inadequate, different. 

Recently, through a Sailors with disAbilities program, we run in Sydney – I had two parents come to me who had a dyslexic child, these were good people and cared very much about their boy. I would like to look at this situation in a little detail. Because for me,  it captures the problem.  
As I said these were concerned and caring parents and money was not an issue. Their boy had attended a good public school and of course the inevitable had taken place. He was disruptive, aggressive, and inattentive and yes you guessed it he could not read or write. His confidence was shot. So his parents looked for a better school, one more suited to his needs. A private school that offered all sorts of solutions, guarantees that their syllabus and staff had the capacity to sort out this young fellow. Well guess what they didn’t. Normally when something does not work we go back and try again, try, try again, that’s the standard way and that in itself is not bad. The problem is that the dynamics of the problem have changed, so you are not trying to solve the same problem. So at the public school, circumstance had convinced him, he was a failure and his confidence had been damaged.

He was then offered the possibility of going to a new private school which would be able to fix his differences that had had plenty of kids like him, which according to the school they had sorted out. This brought a level of optimism into his life, the idea that he could be normal. In his case this did not happened. You can see it is a dynamic environment changing all the time. So where is his confidence now? On the scale of one to ten, at the public school his confidence was rating  2, after the experience at the private school his confidence was 20- . So we are now dealing with a new problem, not the same problem, because he had become more withdrawn and the work required to turn him around had gone expediential. It is this situation that the school system is incapable of coming to terms with. You can see what I mean by dynamic. Unfortunately, the Department of Education be it, public or private is inflexible naive and unable to understand this situation. 

Well that’s enough of the bad news – what can be done about it?

Firstly, let’s quickly examine the purpose of school, in a general sense. Again this is one man’s opinion.  

I think schools should prepare us for our future, to get us ready to go into the world as young adults, with tools that are appropriate to our needs whatever they may be. The first thing we need is confidence, optimism and an ability to think I can. Maybe I can become a preschool teacher, or run my own business, or go to university, woteva (sic).  In the case of dyslexia and differences, do our current structures facilitate these outcomes? I think not. So what can we do about it? When sitting down to write this letter, I felt the weight, the responsibility of trying to put forward a proposition that people could understand. There are too many unnecessarily damaged souls in our society. In Sailors with disABILITIES we deal with these problems on a daily basis. We see bright young enthusiastic faces that do not believe in themselves. They did once, before they attended school but they don’t now. 

I would like to take you on my journey and let’s see if we can make it fit. I am not saying this is a solution for all people but I think it might be worth considering. Let’s consider a proposition and test it. I believe that schools are inappropriate for the purpose I have outlined. They service a third of our society reasonably, they miss those that struggle and the bright kids. They are not designed to consider the proposition, that humanity is a broad spectrum and so what we see is the outcome of this attitude ie a structure that is designed to service the middle third, by people that have never had to use the syllabus that they create to find their way through life. Because they came from the middle third, the teachers, the administrators, everyone involved, they think their structure is fit for purpose. By the way, they refuse to define purpose. It would appear to me that there are very few people in the Department that understand their purpose. For example, learning to read is a mechanism for acquiring information, it is the one they know and are comfortable with, but it is not the only one, indeed there are many other ways of acquiring information. Explaining this proposition to our students might have interesting outcomes.

If we are to find a solution we must accept that anything less than this is a band aid. It was not school that gave me confidence –it wasn’t school that gave me the physical skills for life and it certainly wasn’t school that encouraged me to dream. So what did that?  So what part of my life facilitated the componentry of this dream? Well for those that know me it was sailing- it does not have to be sailing, it can be anything. 
David Pescud (http://cdn.newsapi.com.au/image/v1/51638a5c1f125ca1a416858d41f2be71?width=650)
Sailing gave me the opportunity to experiment, to fail, to succeed, to understand, to improve and to feel that I can. I did not know at the time that this was taking place; I did not understand the ramifications that this meant for my life. But the power of it can easily be seen when at the age of 22,  I launched into my own business and have been self-employed ever since. It is my opinion that a neutral environment that offers challenges, the opportunity to succeed when having fun, the space to feel excited about something anything, is the best gift that we can give our children. If we look at where our best learning takes place it is in circumstances that we enjoy and feel comfortable in and we want to continue to find out more about it.

In closing, as a society we are faced with a couple of alternatives. 

One, we can do nothing. 
Two, we can embrace our differences and celebrate all peoples for the colour and richness they bring to our world.

Are we brave enough to make this choice? 

I would also ask a supplementary question, if I may; 
Should we be teachers or facilitators of learning? 

For the responsibility of our children future lies with us all. If you cannot help, then get out of the way, cos we are about making a difference.

            David Pescud