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Monthly Archives: October 2017

Place Your Bets

I’m reading more lately about the increasing challenges, even struggles, young people are encountering in making successful transitions to the working world after high school and college. Often the trouble can be traced to a lack of preparation in “soft” skills like nonlinear problem-solving, adaptability to rapid change, and the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively.

For parents who are now making decisions about the schools their children will attend, those educational choices are not unlike placing bets on their children’s future. Smart bettors employ careful deliberation of the many factors that can tilt the odds in their favor.

Consideration 1: Without a doubt, independent schools offer students the best chance of beating those odds and preparing to become not only lifelong learners, but also capable and effective problem-solvers and leaders. Unfortunately many of these schools have done a poor job of countering the public’s misperception that an independent school education is financially out of reach. It isn’t. Like Darrow, many of these schools make it their mission to serve a socioeconomically diverse student body, including people from all backgrounds. Our success stories are filled with testimonials from accomplished alumni who say they never could have imagined attending an independent school.

Consideration 2: This is not to imply that other educational options—such as charter, magnet and public schools—are not valid choices. I attended public schools through 12th grade and was served well enough, despite a learning difference that went undiagnosed until college. The fact that some people will have alternatives that others do not shouldn’t preclude a careful examination of some essential questions:

  • Do we want our children’s post-educational success to be rooted in the memorization and regurgitation of facts presented in a rigid framework?
  • Do we want to bet on education that models working and thinking alone most of the time?
  • Do we want to prize obedience, reticence, and self-consciousness as important behaviors in achieving goals?

My wife and I make sacrifices each year so that we can place a different bet. We bet on interactivity, creativity, and real-world connection as the force multipliers of education. We bet against the AP culture because we don’t see any workplace set up like an AP class. At Darrow, we bet on inspiration, engagement, problem-solving, self-motivation, and agency.

These are smart bets with highly favorable odds.

Seeing Red

I was halfway through college when I was diagnosed with a condition known at the time as auditory dyslexia. Believed to be caused by an impairment in the neural processing of auditory information, it is characterized by difficulty processing the basic sounds of language, letters, and groups of letters, resulting in slow and labored reading. It was my Spanish professor who suggested I get tested after she noticed an odd disconnect between my level of effort and my achievement. Luckily, the Mayo Clinic was nearby and my family income qualified me for free educational testing, which I undertook gladly, driven as I am by a curiosity to understand performance.

I was surprised when the results came back, having never imagined that I had any learning differences. But the surprise faded quickly and was replaced by a wave of relief, a phenomenon that educational psychologists called demystification, which occurs when a person’s unique neurology is made plain to them and then suddenly their education experiences make a lot more sense. I now understood why learning languages, math included, had been such a chore for me. I understood why I read slowly. I also hypothesized about the blessing it offered me, imagining that, somehow, the dyslexia was also responsible for outstanding scores in reading comprehension and writing that placed me at the graduate school level, though I had no evidence to support that notion.

I didn’t much care at the time, nor since, because I understood that the dyslexia was hard-wired into my nervous system. I was less concerned about cause and effect, and more preoccupied with learning how to make adjustments. Just knowing that there was a reason for my subjective experience as a learner was all I needed. I didn’t pursue any of the accommodations the testing suggested because I didn’t feel like I needed to. I continued as a history major because it stoked my enthusiasm, the massive reading load be damned.

Jump forward 25 years. When I learned that October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and that one can show support for the event by wearing red, I was thrilled. I hopped online to buy a red tie when I found none in my quiver of neckwear. For the rest of this month, I’ll be sporting red proudly to acknowledge the struggles and victories we dyslexics have experienced, both those who are aware of their diagnosis and, just as importantly, the undiagnosed.

I am particularly proud of Darrow School’s history of helping dyslexic students achieve genuine and hard-earned success, as they realize the sense of accomplishment that comes from celebrating their wins. One of those students came to the Mountainside in the late 1940s, having been expelled from another boarding school for failing most of his exams. Although dyslexia wasn’t well understood in those days, the student found here a place that accepted his learning difficulties and discovered a way to help him overcome them. Charles “Pete” Conrad, Class of 1949, graduated from Darrow, went on to study aeronautical engineering at Princeton, became a U.S. Navy fighter pilot, and was the third man to walk on the moon as part of NASA’s Apollo 12 mission.

I’d love to hear the stories of those close to you who have learning differences to hear how they embraces theirs. Please leave a comment below or email me at holzapfels@darrowschool.org.