Home Home Home About Us Home About Us About Us About Us /links/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html About Us About Us /archives/index.html About Us /archives/index.html About Us /archives/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html
Home About Us About Us /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html
About Us /archives/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html










Camps & Sports


Children’s Corner

Collected Features


Cover Stories

Distance Learning


Famous Interviews


Medical Update

Metro Beat

Movies & Theater


Music, Art & Dance

Special Education

Spotlight On Schools

Teachers of the Month


















New York City
October 2002

People Like You’: Living Successfully with Learning Disabilities
by Jonathan Mooney

“Jonathan, people like you flip burgers. Mark my words; that is what you will end up doing.” This is how I started my high school career. Little did I know that seven years later, in spite of the fact that I did not learn to read until I was 12 years old, I would be a published author and an Ivy League graduate.

As a kid, because I was hyperactive, I grew up with people shaming me, yelling things like “What’s wrong with you?” I spent a lot of time in the hallway with the janitor. If I wasn’t in the hallway, I was in the slow reading group. In fourth grade, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, labeled as “learning disabled.” I grew up in the ‘blue bird group,’ which, in spite of its patronizing name, was obviously the “stupid” group. I spent much of elementary school hiding in the bathroom crying, terrified of reading out loud.

“People like you” has a long history as a euphemism for those whom schools don’t like. It’s used as the rhetorical equivalent of a racial slur; it’s been used to demarcate the class boundaries in our society, and it’s been used for people who don’t fit into any of those categories, like myself, but find themselves to be outsiders. There are at least 20 million individuals in this country who are learning disabled and/or have ADD. Many of these students still suffer in school. And yes, many creative and intelligent individuals, despite the rapid expansion of physiological and learning diagnosis, still grow up feeling alone, defective, “stupid,” “crazy,” and “lazy.” But despite the current trend of defining these students as pathological, there is nothing wrong with these kids–there was nothing wrong with me. While it is true that I can’t spell to save my life (I once wrote an organic chemistry paper on orgasmic chemistry), my problem was not dyslexia. I struggled at times with dys-teachia.

So am I, now, at age 25, flipping burgers?  Although to this day I still spell at a third grade level and have the attention span of a gnat, I recently graduated from Brown University with a 4.0 in English literature. I was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship and was awarded the Truman Scholarship for public service for graduate studies in the field of creative writing and education. In addition, as an undergraduate, I co-authored a book, Learning Outside the Lines published by Simon & Schuster (September 2000). I guess I am not flipping burgers.

I get emails all the time from people wanting to know how I found success, what pill did I take (and where can they get some) when the reality is I am the same little red-headed punk who was told he would flip burgers. What replaced “stupid,” “crazy,” and “lazy” in our collective vocabulary for educational outsiders has been a tide of pathology and a professional colonization of these students’ identities. One needs to look no further than the labels themselves and the professional service industry that has arisen to fix these kids’ “problems.” Fixing, and seeing myself as broken or pathological, had nothing to do with my success. In my work with students, teachers, and parents, fixing is in fact counter-productive. In my life, I was empowered  by a mom, with a voice like Mickey Mouse and a mouth like a truck driver, who fought for me every day. I was taught the difference between schooling and education by my beautiful third grade teacher, Mr. R, who accommodated my weaknesses, told me “screw” spelling, to define myself by what I could do, and, at all costs, to follow my passion.

So how do we help those kids like me? The road to changing the brutal marginalization of labeled students lies in empowered teachers, students, parents, and communities whose voice is respected in the educational process, not silenced by the political din calling for standardization. But I truly believe that things won’t change for students like me, no matter how many dollars we throw at this issue, or how many books are written about different learning, until we answer a new question. The question is not one of whether or not kids learn differently; we all know they do and have known that since the beginning of time. The question is why have we, as a culture, been engaged in a cyclical debate about individualizing education since the days of John Dewey, then Howard Gardner, now Mel Levine, and nothing has changed? Every day, kids are told that they are special, individual snowflakes, then told to sit down in a uniform line of desks, told what to think, how to think, and when they can go to the bathroom and when they can eat, waiting for some factory bell to dismiss them. What is it about our institution, or society, that deeply distrusts the individual?

I worry sometimes that our institutions need educational outsiders, regardless of their labels. That these failures serve as some systemic example to make everyone stay in their right place. But while that is a sobering reality, I will never forget Mr. R., because it is not institutions that matter, but people. And while we should never stop working to have just institutions, a fight I am committed to along with the vast majority of educators I have met in my work, we have more control over how we treat others and what kind of people we become ourselves. About a year ago, after giving a lecture I met a 92 year old man, an educational outsider, and all he could talk about was his second grade teacher who made him feel like a person. And that made all the difference.#

City, State:

Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.