“From the time I was six, I thought I was stupid. Although I talked well — and a lot — and articulated my thoughts fluidly enough that some folks swore one day I’d become a lawyer or a public speaker, it was all a facade. I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading, a deficit that my oratory skills only served to hide.
It got worse each year, stunting my ability and willingness to grow intellectually. Before long, I was in the second grade but reading at a first-grade level. Then I was in the third grade — still at a first-grade reading level.”
Stephen A. Smith, one of the country’s most popular sports commentators at ESPN, has a new autobiography called Straight Shooter. In the book, he talks about over hearing his father tell his mother that “this boy just ain’t smart” led him to become extremely driven to become a sports journalist even though he was held back in the 3rd and 4th grades and his dyslexia was not recognized until middle school.
An excerpt from his book in the Rolling Stone:
“The fact is, the words my father had muttered about me did hurt like hell. They really did wound me deeply. Yet somehow I knew almost instinctively that blurting out those blunt, unthinking words was the best thing my father ever did for me. From the moment I heard him insult me, my determination kicked in.”
Another great insight from the book excerpt is the conversation he overheard between his 7th grade social studies teacher and his mother (personal memory!):
“Sometimes he believes he’s a dummy, because he never fails to acknowledge that he got held back twice in elementary school,” Mr. Caravan went on. “It sticks with him. He never lets it go.”
My mother nodded. I don’t think she was sure where this was going. Neither was I.
“But here is what I’ve noticed about him,” Mr. Caravan continued. “He gets extremely bored very easily. So, if there’s something he is not interested in, he drifts. He pays little to no attention and misses things. But when he’s interested in a subject, he’s as sharp as they come. Find out what he’s interested in and have him do that. You’ll have a star on your hands…
When Mr. Caravan said those words to my mother — words so different from what my father had muttered just a few years earlier — they lit up all kinds of thoughts and dreams in my head. I suddenly fantasized about being a lawyer, a profession I knew about mostly through watching TV murder mysteries and dramas like Matlock and Perry Mason. I pondered becoming a politician, because I loved watching presidential debates. As a young teenager, I watched World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and Nightline with Ted Koppel. They defined credibility and substance, new concepts I’d learned about since my reading breakthrough, and traits I knew I would need if I was ever going to be taken seriously at whatever I chose to do.”
What a great observation! We couldn’t agree more that the most important goal for everyone in their early years of education should be to find out what they’re interested in and give them time and experiences to develop it.