My son’s dyslexic, and I’m glad

My son is dyslexic, and I’m glad.

Most people think that I am deranged or callous. But I have two related reasons, both of which seem to me to be good.
The first is that his dyslexia is an inextricable part of him. I can’t say: ‘This is the pathological bit, which I resent’, as one might say of a tumour. Take away his dyslexia, and he wouldn’t be the same person, but able to read and write. He wouldn’t be him. That would be far too high a price for me to pay. And for him to pay? Well, there you run into Parfit’s non-identity problem.

The second is that I can’t bring myself to say that his dyslexia is pathological. To use the old, deeply inaccurate language of brain lateralization, he’s a right brain person. He sees holistically; he’s a big picture person; he intuits; he connects wildly distant and different concepts. There’s a cost, of course. There always is. His left brain doesn’t do as well as mine the boring, nerdish, reductionist, systematic, literal things that our world sees as the essential elements of education. But surely he’s the real intellectual aristocrat, if only we could define ‘intellectual’ in a way that isn’t dictated purely by that self-serving left side1. If you could choose between being literal and being literary (in the sense of living the things at which the more imaginative nerds more or less obscurely hint), would you opt to be literal?
Of course I’m romanticizing dyslexia, and putting a brave face on things for him and for me. There will be great struggles and frustrations. But let’s be clear why that is. It’s because the educational system, and the world of work beyond it, sees everything from its own left-brain perspective. It will try to turn him into a left-brainer, whether he likes it or not, and regardless of the value of the right-brain stuff.
So here’s the relevance of this personal story to an ethics blog. Our values are overwhelmingly, crushingly, conditioned by the presumption that it is good to be regular, systematic, ordered and literal. Anything else is diseased, and the diseased want to be cured, don’t they? So dyslexics are compulsorily treated. They have educational therapy forcibly administered to them against their will for years.
It can be put in yet another pejorative, quasi-legal way. There is systematic discrimination against right-brain dominance, of a sort that would be regarded as outrageous were it directed against skin colour rather than neuronal wiring.
What’s to be done? So far as the changing of attitudes is concerned, there’s perhaps some value in diatribes, like the one above, using the explosive language of discrimination. Within that type of diatribe is, usually, the ‘giftedness’ idea of Michael Sandel – surely, despite its unfortunately theological flavour, the main ingredient of most coherent objections to discrimination.

But as for us? Well, we’ll hypocritically and shabbily compromise with the zeitgeist, I suppose, which means continuing to torment our son with flashcards and phonemes when he’s actually thinking far bigger thoughts than any we could imagine. We’ll collaborate with the left-brain establishment that demands his acquiescence. But we’ll always wonder what we, and he, have lost.
1. See Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale UP, 2009)


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4 responses to “My son’s dyslexic, and I’m glad”

  1. Simon Martin Avatar
    Simon Martin

    Charles – an interesting article to read for someone whose son is also dyslexic. I have to say I don’t agree that the establishment is quite as forcibly therapeutic as you say – whilst there are elements of that, the state education system in London has been impressively emphathetic and understanding – or maybe he has just had the benefit of excellent schools and teachers. It brought me to tears that in his final assembly in primary school he was the one chosen to read a poem – one he learned, of course, rather than read, and got wrong, and (but) earned himself a round of applause by assembled parents, fellow pupils and teachers. Ultimately much – I hesitate to say all, as that would be a lie – of the extra help he has got is because he wants to be able to read, rather than take books to bed only to be able to look at the pictures. And his differentness is the cause of frustration and serendipity in equal measure; for the moment he hasn’t learned to be embarrassed of it -for which I’m grateful. Anyhow all best wishes as you help him navigate his path through life. Simon

  2. Iain Campbell Avatar
    Iain Campbell

    Thanks Charles – as a dyslexic myself I’ve always found being treated as disabled quite odd. I can see some advantages to being like me.. The frustrating thing has not been so much about the difficulty with fitting in but more about why the world doesn’t actively make more use of our talents. I have often imagined living in a more simple time, say, in a Viking village, where dyslexic mental abilities and tendencies would be essential for survival.
    As Ken Robinson says, the whole trajectory of our education system is to turn us into professors. The absurdity of this fact is not lost on dyslexics.
    Best wishes
    Iain

  3. Timothy Fowler Avatar
    Timothy Fowler

    The love of a father……….. and the strength developed thru adversity…will see your son through! Excellent article friend!

    http://www.asq-columbus.org/images/TimothyW_Fowler_RIGHT_BRAIN_PROBLEM_$OLVING.pdf

  4. thehungrycyclist Avatar
    thehungrycyclist

    Great post – I am dyslexic but dont let it stop me. I write books, paint, blog, take photos and enjoy and share the world for what it is. People forever tell me about the spelling mistakes but I am glad they are spending their time to spot them and not me – life is too short. I am also a fine scrabble player – I see real words in the jumbled up letters. Bravo. Tom

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