I have had such an interesting response from my article that I wrote last week. I have decided to follow it up with a few more thoughts, feelings and insights. I do not know the number of people that do not read well but I do know that our schools and culture is set up for those that read, write and spell well.
If you have never had a problem reading, writing, or spelling I know it would be hard for you to understand what it really is like.
Now that I look back on my experience of not reading well, I have to say that it was a blessing, but going through it is something that I would not wish on anyone.
I remember when I went to the first grade, I was in the middle reading group. I did well and my teacher and mother seemed pleased with my progress.
However during the summer between my 1st and 2nd grade, I had three months off. I lived at the Baker Ranger station which was a kid “outdoor Disneyland”. We had everything a kid could dream of. There were horses to ride, cows to milk, chicken eggs to gather, 240 acres to explore, sand piles to play in and tree houses to build. There was even an old saw mill near where we would take a running leap and tumble down the piles of saw dust. On the days that we would go fishing with my dad, we went down to a nearby stream to dig worms. There were endless possibilities for a kid to explore and create.
During that summer, I remember my mother calling me to come in and read. Reading was the last thing that I wanted to do. The book that she would have me read was so boring. They went like this: “Run Dick. Run, run, run. Run Jane. Run, run, run to the garden.” About 5 minutes was the biggest dose that I could take. My mother finally gave up and let me go out in the back yard where I could feed my new baby lamb warm milk from a bottle. I still remember all the bubbles that would come out around her mouth. I ask you why a kid would want to read when they had lambs to feed and things to build.
When I got into the second grade, Mrs. Lyman had me read to her and she put me into the bottom reading group. That was the first time that the thought came to my mind that perhaps I was dumb. I continued to be put into the bottom reading group throughout my years in school.
The next thing that was totally humiliating was for a teacher to pick two of the brighter students to select the students they wanted to have on their team for a spelling bee. When I was picked last, or near the end, I was sure that I was really dumb.
I never remember verbalizing what I thought about myself, but it began to be seared into my brain. To be really honest with you, school was mostly boring and really hard as much of it involves reading, writing and spelling.
We moved to Salt Lake when I was 12. At junior high school, I was put into the special reading program with a lot of kids that you would classify as “wild”. My mother took me to a woman in our ward who was an elementary principal. After giving me a reading test, she said her fear was that I would get into the group with the hoodlums.
The skill that I had to develop to survive school was a massive amount of creativity. Every class that involved reading, writing, or spelling took a lot of creativity for me to figure out how I could get the assignment done. While my skill with reading, writing and spelling stayed pretty much the same, my skill with creativity was shooting off the charts.
Here are just a few of the measures I took to get through.
- I always tried to make friends with the smart people in the class. They would help me through. I remember that one of my roommates at BYU took chemistry with me. She was a couple years younger than me but, boy was she smart in chemistry! Thank you, Judy, for helping me through chemistry.
- I would beg the teachers to have a help session before a test. I remember Mrs. Turner taught the most difficult foods class I had to take. She had a help section before every big test. I would go and take notes on every word that came out of her mouth. Then I would memorize every concept she gave in the help section. I got the second highest grade in the class.
- I knew that I was much more of a visual learner so I would go to the campus to study. Not to the library to read, but to a classroom with chalk boards. I would write out the material that I needed to learn. That way I could take it in better.
Now that I am over 60 years into this learning process, I am not sure that people who do not read well are learning disabled. I think they just learn differently. They just have a different way of learning.
After I wrote my first book, Roughing It Easy, and was on the Johnny Carson Show where it shot to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, people asked me how I was so creative.
I did not tell them what I now know. I was blessed with the inability to read well and spent my life creating new and different ways to get through school.
I suffered the most from this experience, though, in my soul; for years I thought that I was dumb. I even remember sitting in a faculty meeting at Orem Jr. High and looking around the room at all the teachers, and saying to myself, “I must be the dumbest teacher in the room.”
Now I really do not think that I had a learning disability; I think that I just had a different learning style. I really learned by doing and seeing.
Later on, after much success, I found a wonderful therapist that listened to me ask her 1,000 times if I was OK. Then I asked her to tell me at least one thousand times that I was smart. Sometimes she would tell me, “Dian, you are probably the smartest person I know. I do not know anyone else that has done what you have done.”
I have had a wonderful and rich life. Now I realize that without these challenges I would not have developed my creativity to the degree that I did, and would not have come up with all the ideas that I have shared with millions over the past 30 years.
Thanks to the understanding and supportive parents I had, and the many people who came into my life to help me along my path. I now know that I am not “dumb”– I just had a different way of learning.