Author talks about growing up dyslexic

`Cognitive diversity' could aid schools, he says

May 03, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Jonathan Mooney knows what it's like to be labeled stupid, lazy and crazy.

He was told as a teen-ager that he would end up "flipping burgers" at a fast-food restaurant.

Now, at age 25, Mooney is an author who speaks about the problems he faced growing up with dyslexia. His message to more than 200 parents and educators this week at the St. James Academy in Monkton could not have been more clear: Children with learning disabilities are not "broken" and do not need to be "fixed."

"It's an issue of diversity," Mooney told the heads of private schools and members of the Parents Council of Greater Baltimore Inc. "Schools need to lower their barriers for cognitive diversity in schools. We build ramps for people with physical disabilities; we need to build academic ramps for students."

The way to do this is to empower the students by treating them with respect and making accommodations for their learning differences, he said.

Jon C. McGill, headmaster at the Gilman School, agreed, and said that in the past private schools did not deal effectively with learning-disabled students.

McGill served on a panel with Sally Smith, head of the Lab School of Washington and Baltimore, and Mark Westervelt, interim director of the Jemicy School. Lab School and Jemicy enroll children with learning disabilities.

Mooney is the author of Learning Outside the Lines, a book he co-wrote with David Cole.

Mooney didn't learn to read until he was 12, when he was diagnosed with dyslexia, a neurological condition that impairs the ability to recognize and comprehend written words.

Cole, now a sculptor, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition marked by a short attention span, impulsive behavior and difficulty focusing.

The two met while attending Brown University, where Mooney graduated with an honors degree in English and Cole earned an honors degree in visual arts.

A lot of schools have failed students with learning differences, Mooney said, because "we have cultivated a society of competition over compassion."

Mooney said he learned to fight for himself by watching his mother argue with teachers and administrators about his struggles in school in his native Los Angeles and in Colorado, where he attended high school. He believes his mother was an undiagnosed dyslexic because she saw similarities between herself and her son in school.

Students with learning disabilities often have one teacher who make a difference in their life, Mooney said. For him, it was a third-grade teacher, who treated him with respect and created an environment where he could succeed.

"Jonathan's message was important to be heard, especially in the mainstream schools," Lynn Plack, president of the parents council, said later. "I wish I had heard this message years ago. It's great for the parents to know that the independent schools are receptive to teaching more creatively."

Mooney also was scheduled for appearances this week at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville and Garrison Forest School and McDonogh School in Owings Mills.

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