On the door to Jennifer Healy's office at Calvert Hall College High School hangs a list of famous dyslexics that includes such notables as Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Edgar Allan Poe and Winston Churchill.
A student in the school's Xavier program for students with mild learning disabilities added senior Michael A. "Mick" Soule's name to the list in the past week, said Healy, the program director.
Being in the spotlight is not a role that Soule, 18, of Baldwin, relishes. All he wants is a chance at a four-year ROTC scholarship at James Madison University in Virginia and to follow in his brothers' footsteps and become an Army officer.
But the Army turned him down, ruling he is medically disqualified from getting the ROTC scholarship because he is dyslexic. Soule, his family and Calvert Hall officials are fighting to get the Army to reverse its decision.
Experts in learning disabilities say the Army's decision reflects the public's general misunderstanding of dyslexia, a neurological disorder that impairs the ability to recognize and comprehend the written word.
They were angered at the Army's decision and its reference to Soule's learning disability as a "medical condition" and say the Army is discriminating against Soule.
J. Thomas Viall, executive director of the International Dyslexia Association, which has headquarters in Baltimore, said the Army doesn't understand dyslexia.
"The military isn't giving this young man a chance to show his ability," Viall said.
The military's attitude is part of a societal problem, he said, noting studies that have shown that nearly two-thirds of the population believe learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are a form of mental retardation.
Nothing could be further from the truth, he said. Those with dyslexia, he and other experts say, usually have higher IQs than most people.
The association describes dyslexia as a "language-based learning disability" and "refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading."
Dyslexia comes from a different wiring of the brain and is not an illness, said Roger Saunders, a clinical psychologist living in North Carolina who was a dyslexia pioneer in Baltimore for more than 40 years. He said the word dyslexia comes from the Greek language, meaning "difficulty coping with words."
Saunders said there are numerous successful dyslexics, including those in leadership roles. He pointed to Army Gen. George S. Patton Jr., a World War II hero and a dyslexic who had difficulty getting through West Point.
Teachers and administrators who know Soule praise his work ethic and diligence and say he would be an effective leader.
"His dyslexia should not interfere in any way with his ability to perform his duty in the military," said M. Bradley Rogers Jr., headmaster at the Odyssey School, which enrolls students with dyslexia.
Soule graduated from Odyssey four years ago. "Mick would make an excellent officer."
Soule has a 90.25 grade point average, is a National Honor Society member, scored 1,170 on the SAT and is a varsity athlete at the all-boys' Catholic high school in Towson.
Yet military officials said his academic performance was "irrelevant," Healy said, because he had a "history of a learning disability."
The experts disagree, saying dyslexia is not a medical issue. But the Department of Defense disqualifies applicants with dyslexia for all military service, including applicants for the service academies, under its medical standards.
Benjamin Shifrin, headmaster at the Jemicy School in Baltimore County, which caters to children with learning disabilities, called Soule's situation blatant discrimination by the military and said the military should be embarrassed.
"There is such a stigma attached to this because they are saying he has a disability," Shifrin said. "Dyslexia is not a disability. It is just a difference.
"Disability means not being able to do something. In reading, dyslexics have difficulty with the mechanics of reading, not the comprehension."
He said dyslexics comprehend above their grade level.
Shifrin said studies have shown that between 10 percent to 15 percent of the student-age population today have dyslexic-style learning differences.
"I would never have gone to college if I had allowed the prejudices of people to affect me," said Shifrin, who is dyslexic.
Calling on lawmakers
Soule's parents, Tom and Ginger, and Calvert Hall officials are hoping that U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, and Reps. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a 1st District Republican, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a 2nd District Democrat, can help the teen-ager receive a medical waiver and get his scholarship.
A spokeswoman for Gilchrest said the congressman has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, requesting that the Army reconsider its decision.
"This is tragic that he was rejected for the ROTC scholarship," Shifrin said. "Would the Army have rejected Patton?"