Many of us were deeply disappointed this week when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted down the amendments proposed by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. These amendments would have provided much needed federal support for the appropriate education of dyslexic students.
This loss was made particularly bitter by the comments of one senator who accused the amendments of trying to make dyslexic students a “privileged” group. The opposite is true. Rather than seeking special privileges, these amendments were simply trying to help schools provide dyslexic students to something which is already their right under existing laws: a fair and appropriate education.
Neither the dyslexic community nor the amendments supporters were trying to skirt the bounds of fairness and equity by seeking special treatment. Rather, it is the current educational system that regularly avoids the demands of fairness by denying dyslexic children the scientifically proven interventions they need to learn.
This systematic failure to provide a group of individuals the kind of education that is theirs by right is form of discrimination, equal in kind and degree to the failure to provide sound amplification for hearing impaired students, or braille text for blind students, or ramps for wheelchair bound students. The primary difference is this: while the need and rights of these other students have long been respected, the needs of dyslexic students are regularly and systematically flouted.
We know that most schools are currently not providing the kind of education to which dyslexic students have a right not only because of numerous studies and surveys, but because as parents and professionals we see with our own eyes the damage that is being done to dyslexic children. For many dyslexic children, school is a harmful rather than a nurturing experience. Studies have repeatedly shown the damage inappropriate schooling can do not only to the dyslexic child’s intellectual development, but to social and emotional development, as well. This systematic damage results fundamentally from our failure to provide them the fair and appropriate education they need. And this is a form of discrimination as insidious and corrosive as any other devaluation of human diversity.
Is “discrimination” too harsh a word? Ask a dyslexic person or the parent of a dyslexic child whether they understand the experiences described by Dr. Martin Luther King in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Whether they understand what he meant by “the blackness of corroding despair”, or the experience of “living constantly on a tiptoe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness.” And like parents of the child King described who began to experience the evils of segregation, ask the parents of the dyslexic child whether they can see “the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in [their child’s] little mental sky, and to see her begin to distort her little personality”.
This steady decline into despair is precisely the experience of countless dyslexic students, who live day after day with the nightmare of being expected to learn in an educational system that is fundamentally unsuited to their needs. This systematic mistreatment of one-sixth of our population is a fundamental violation of everything we profess to believe as a people, and of justice itself. As Dr. King wrote, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” We know that a law is unjust if it “distorts the soul and damages the personality.” This is as true of educational statutes as it is of any other law.
So no, Senators, we are not seeking special privileges. We are seeking the fundamental rights of dyslexic learners, and the simple respect and dignity that is their due as human beings. The question is not whether we should “privilege” them, but whether we will finally provide them what is already their right under law: an appropriate education.
To contact your Congressperson about dyslexia, click here: http://dyslexicadvantage.rallycongress.com
Join our Dyslexic Advantage advocacy group HERE.
View Senator Cassidy voicing his support for the dyslexic community and Senator Murray from Washington saying that she would reject the educational amendment if “Dyslexia” were included in it HERE.
Join the Community at Dyslexic Advantage