Monday 27 June 2022

Rog T's Dyslexia Blog - Reflections on the teaching of dyslexics in the 1970's

Seven years ago, I wrote a blog detailing my experiences of education at Finchley Catholic High School in the 1970's. I don't often re-read my own blogs. However two things conspired to make me have a look at it. The first was that I went to see a band put together by an old classmate of mine from that period, a certain Mr Sam Sproule and his band the Midnite Crawlers at the Boogaloo Bar in Highgate last night. I've not seen Sam since I left the esteemed establishment aged 15. It got me thinking about the school. As if by magic, a random reader also left a comment on the blog. This inspired me to re-read it.

It is quite a hard read for me. My views on my education have evolved. When I was 14, I felt trapped and forced to go to school. If I could have possibly escaped the experience I would have. I didn't enjoy the almost ritualistic belittlement that we faced as students at the hands of the teachers. As someone who was bottom of the class most of the time, I got far more than my fair share of it. Was there any upside to it? I've come to realise that there was, but not the one that the Teachers who indulged in the bullying intended. It gave me a complete lack of respect for people in positions of authority and a hatred of bullies. I'd probably not have started this blog, to moan about injustice if I didn't carry a deep felt anger. But.....

The more I think about it, the more I feel aggrevied. You see these teachers were paid a decent wage and held a position of some respect in society. My parents would attend evenings with them, where they were told all manner of things about me that were a) rather bad and b) completely true. What they didn't tell them, the key matter, was that I was dyslexic and my relatively poor performance at school and my bad behaviour was very likely a result of having a learning difficulty. I accept that teachers now have far better training in such matters, but if they were doing their job, they most certainly should have recognised this. My parents were told I was lazy. I believed I was lazy to the core of my soul. I believed all of my problems were down to being lazy. The thing is, I wasn't. I never have been. I've always been an incredibly busy and hard working person. If I have something to do, I throw myself into it heart and soul. The reason that I didn't throw myself into schoolwork is because whenever I did, I completely failed. For my getting a pass (usually a C grade) was a victory. It happened rarely before I reached the age of 14. I can remember teachers setting us school projects, where I'd be inspired, work my nuts off, do what I thought was really brilliant work, only to get it back with red ink all over it, corrections to spelling and grammar, with not a word on the actual content. I recall one science project that had a big prize, a record token if my memory serves me right. I did what I thought was a brilliant piece of work. I knew what my classmates were doing and I knew mine was better. When the marking was done, I got a C. Why? Because my project was littered with spelling mistakes etc. I asked the teacher whether it was a science class or an English class as I was so pissed off. He replied that no one who was unable to spell could become a scientist. I just wished I'd known Albert Einstein was a dyslexic at that moment.

The whole educational experience was telling me that I should do a job like being a gardener or a decorator. I was lucky. I had a stable home life and parents who cared. They supported me in what I tried to do and encouraged me. That is why I now run one of London's most successful music studios. It has taken a very long time, but I now can say with complete confidence, I'm not and never have been lazy. I can also say that those teachers who would belittle my class mates and I were the epitomy of laziness. If I could, I'd love to sue them to get the money back that they were paid, as they were paid to be teachers but let me and my classmates down. They took money under false pretences. Sure some of the brighter kids did OK, but they would have if the class was taught by a donkey. I shudder to think what my youth would have been like had I not had a home that I felt safe and comfortable in. Re-reading the blog I was taken back to those times and it is very hard not to feel angry about it. As I mentioned in the blog a few of the teachers were decent folk who cared and our class was notoriously difficult, but they were grown ups and they had a job to do. The fact that I was in my 30's before I even realised I was dyslexic, let alone identified by people marking my work is a complete disgrace. I'm only moderately dyslexic and I've developed coping mechanisms to get through. What happens to those who's dyslexia is worse? Those who don't have the stable home life? Sadly, if you look at studies of the prison population, the answers are all too evident. I'm coming to the opinion that every prisoner in jail for minor offences (clearly not murder and sex crimes), should be given an assessment and a plan to deal with their issues. They should be given another chance. They have been failed by society. 

Some people may read this and think "Another soft minded liberal seeking to blame society for their ills". I see every day that there is a complete lack of understanding of the subject. Even my wife, who has been with me for 37 years doesn't really get it. But I talk to other dyslexics and when I say I am, they open up and so many experiences were similar. I've always said I could walk into a classroom and tell who the dyslexics were just by where they were sitting. The one thing you learn early is not to be in the teachers eyeline and to be close to the door. You don't sit too near the front as then you are in the firing line when they pace up and down. About three rows back, as near to the door as possible is the perfect seat. I used to deliberately get thrown out of class, as standing on my own in the corridor was less stressful than sitting in some teachers lessons. I'm not alone in this. No teacher ever took me to one side and said "This is the tenth time I've sent you out, is there something you want to discuss, do you not feel comfortable in class?". A very basic question which may have made a big difference. It's too late for me. Only the nightmares about school remain. I guess they always will. 

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

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