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A Historic Hearing on Dyslexia

Categories: Education & Teaching, Learning Disabilities, Parenting, Public Policy/Advocacy, Uncategorized

Posted by Doug Sprei Hearing1 I’ve never been one to wear patriotism on the sleeve, but darn if yesterday’s Congressional Committee Hearing on the Science of Dyslexia didn’t make me swell with pride to live in America. In an age of gridlock and choking polarization, the Hearing evoked the best qualities of our governmental process: bringing elected officials to the table with ordinary citizens in non-partisan dialogue to solve a major societal problem. How inspiring! For two hours in Rayburn room 2318 on Capitol Hill, there were no Democrats or Republicans, just people concerned about the prevalence of dyslexia in our nation’s children and the fact that millions of families are struggling, and convinced that something huge needs to be done to help these kids read, learn and thrive. What made the event most remarkable was its emotional richness. Even as data points from the vast body of dyslexia science were shared by leading experts, tears flowed and laughter filled the air. At one point, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas commented that he’d never heard such eruptions of applause and enthusiasm in a Congressional Hearing. Best of all, the event was made accessible for everyone: its live webcast was recorded and archived; and all of the testimony was transcribed. You can get the full dose here – highly recommended. Meanwhile, here are several highlights. Clicking on the speakers’ names will bring up a full transcript of their remarks: Cassidy1Rep. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana gave some of the day's most compelling and heart-wrenching testimony, pausing several times to wipe away tears and collect himself. “A couple of years ago, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia. Prompted by concerns about my daughter and my constituents' children, I set out to learn as much as I could about dyslexia and was amazed at how much is known and yet, far too often, not incorporated into public policy and education. . . If dyslexia is identified in elementary school and the appropriate resources are given to these children, America can produce more teachers, more scientists and more entrepreneurs.” Brownley1Rep. Julia Brownley of California also shared personal perspectives as a parent. “When my daughter Hannah struggled to learn to read, like any parent I was completely panicked about what to do next. It was Hannah’s dyslexia, and learning to navigate the school system, where I witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly, that led me to public service. . . This spring, Hannah received her Master’s degree in International Studies, and is now overseas saving the world with a NGO in Kenya, Africa. She speaks three languages, and she still misspells in all of them! I could not be prouder of her. But for every success story like Hannah, there are countless others who do not succeed.” Sally1Dr. Sally Shaywitz of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity made a passionate plea to policy makers that now is the time to translate science into action. “In dyslexia, remarkably in America, in the year 2014, we have not a knowledge gap but an action gap. We have the knowledge but it is not being put into policy and practice and far too many children and adults, too, are suffering needlessly. There is an epidemic of reading failure that we have the scientific evidence to treat effectively and we are not acknowledging or implementing it. . . I cannot look into the face of one more child who has lost faith in himself and the world, I cannot look into the face of a child’s father who is desperately trying to hold back tears; I cannot hear once again about how a school told a mother, ‘we do not believe in dyslexia.’. . . It is our hope that hearing the depth and extent of the scientific knowledge of dyslexia will alert policy makers to act and to act with a sense of urgency. ” Brooks1Max Brooks, an accomplished author and screenwriter, electrified Committee members and the gallery crowd with his personal account of living with dyslexia: “For me, dyslexia was nearly as bad as the feelings of anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem that it caused. For me, 'learned dependency' was the real enemy, the self-narrative that ‘I can't do this’ that can destroy children's learning potential for the rest of their lives. That was ALMOST me. I've spent the last 30 years unlearning the lesson that dyslexia taught me, that society has no use for me. . . “A little awareness and flexible teaching methods could unlock unlimited potential in these kids who now think they're losers. If we already have mandatory racial sensitivity training for our police, why not have mandatory dyslexia recognition training for our teachers? It’s so simple, so easy, and when you look at all the other government programs designed to help citizens help themselves, it’s probably the least expensive.” Persuasive testimony was also given by panelists Stacy Antie, a mother and parent advocate; Paul Eden, president of Landmark College; and Guinevere Eden, Director of the Center for the Study of Learning (CSL) and Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Georgetown University Medical Center. Later on in a Q&A session with Committee lawmakers, Max Brooks revived his comment about making dyslexia training "a mandatory part of every teacher's certificate" -- instantly sparking whoops of applause from the gallery crowd, including many members of the Decoding Dyslexia movement. And those Decoding Dyslexia members - from states as nearby as Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and from as far away as Georgia and Texas, gathered for a photo op of their own before the day's proceedings concluded. DD1 After the Committee Hearing, attendeees and panelists enjoyed a great luncheon hosted by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, featuring a preview look at the new Understood.org initiative and website that will launch later this month, and speeches by an assortment of guests, including Hal Malchow, President of the International Dyslexia Association, Robbi Cooper of Decoding Dyslexia Texas, and Kristin Kane of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia. What will be the net impact of a day like this on our nation's dyslexic children and the parents and teachers who support them? It's hard to say, but there was enough knowledge, passion and experience gathered there on Capitol Hill to move mountains. With so many diverse players assembled at the table, it brought to life the vivid slogan Learning Ally has embraced this year: Together It's Possible.  

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