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Tilting At Windmills


The other night while discussing dyslexia advocacy with my husband he told me to keep tilting at windmills.  I’ve heard that expression before but never really understood what it meant so I asked him.  He said it’s fighting against something I cannot change.  Naturally he spent the next 5 minutes or so digging himself out of that hole, but truth be told, I understood what he meant.

I am one woman fighting for my child against a system that willfully chooses to deny our children.

When our educational establishment made this choice I am certain that a bean counter somewhere did the math regarding what making that choice really meant, and decided it was cheaper for them to deny then it was for them to teach.

Now, as you sit there and ponder that equation, trust me when I say I agree and I can show many facts and figures to show why that math doesn’t work, but stick with me here.

Even if the bean counter’s math was wildly wrong (think prison costs, welfare costs, etc.), our educational system uses 2 main tools to keep parents from challenging them, and therefore ensuring the bean counter’s math holds true, at least for the bottom line the educational establishment is reviewing:

  1. Bullying the parents / child into submission
  2. Financially breaking the parents so they have no choice but to submit

Again, daunting.

So, back to my point, tilting at windmills.  What does that in fact mean?


Tilting is jousting. The expression ’tilting at windmills’ derives from Cervantes’ Don Quixote – first published in 1604, under the title The Ingenious Knight of La Mancha. The novel recounts the exploits of would-be knight ‘Don Quixote’ and his loyal servant Sancho Panza who propose to fight injustice through chivalry. It is considered one of the major literary masterpieces and remains a best seller in numerous translations. In the book, which also gives us the adjective quixotic (striving for visionary ideals), the eponymous hero imagines himself to be fighting giants when he attacks windmills.

“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, ‘Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.’

‘What giants?’ asked Sancho Panza.

‘Those you see over there,’ replied his master, ‘with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.’

‘Take care, sir,’ cried Sancho. ‘Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.'”

-Don Quixote

The figurative reference to tilting at windmills came a little later. John Cleveland published The character of a London diurnall in 1644 (a diurnall was, as you might expect, part-way between a diary or journal):

“The Quixotes of this Age fight with the Wind-mills of their owne Heads.”

The full form of the phrase isn’t used until towards the end of the 19th century; for example, in The New York Times, April 1870:

“They [Western Republicans] have not thus far had sufficient of an organization behind them to make their opposition to the Committee’s bill anything more than tilting at windmills.”

“They have not thus far had sufficient of an organization behind them to make their opposition…anything more than tilting at windmills.”

What a powerful phrase when you think about it, but also so humbling.

I am one woman.  I’m a mom with no political background.  I have a career, I’m educated, my hobbies all revolve around my child.  In the grand scheme of things I’m nobody.  There’s not a politician, pundit, publisher, educational consultant, etc. who has ever heard my name.  To the likes of Mike Morath and Betsy DeVos, I don’t even exist.

Before this dyslexic life, I was content to go forth as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and that’s about it.  I didn’t (and still don’t) seek fame or glory.  I am content with a quiet life.

But my white rabbit had other ideas for me.

White Rabbit.PNG

And the farther he pulls me into this world, the more I see, the more I learn, the more I understand that even if it’s one voice shouting against the injustice, at least someone is standing up.  Even if I have an insufficient organization behind me to make our opposition so that all I ever do is tilt at windmills, that’s ok, because at least I’m fighting, at least I’m quixotic.

Yet as I begin my advocacy journey for others, the depth of realization grows even deeper.  Being forced to look beyond my advocacy for my own child and into assisting others, hearing the manipulations, seeing the ever shifting and unknown rules of engagement play out is humbling.  Humbling not because of some self awareness gained, but because I come to understand the true size, depth and dimension of the windmills that would have to be obliterated to truly serve all of our children, every where.

An incredible team or parents in the state of Arkansas recently did something phenomenal.  They had Whole Language and it’s derivatives outlawed.  Structured Literacy is all that can be taught per state law.

I mean, seriously, how genius is that!

Now mind you this doesn’t mean that Structured Literacy is implemented correctly, as that is a real risk, and you are talking about a mammoth undertaking to retrain all of the teachers in the state, but how stinking genius was that move!  I’m jealous I didn’t think of it.  It’s a real tide turner.  Fewer children will need help if taught through structured literacy and literacy rates for all will improve.  Pure genius!!!!

But, sadly it’s not enough.

Will the stress on the classroom environment decrease?  Yes, and probably substantially, but it’s still not enough.

Even if you put structured literacy into the university programs, banned Whole Language in it’s entirety, taught everything possible about learning challenges, and retained all teachers throughout our country, it’s not enough.

Even if our teachers took a “Do No Harm” oath, it’s not enough.

Each of these are massive wins, but it’s still just tilting at windmills.

Now, on top of Structured Literacy being the letter of the law, education and training in Structured Literacy and a comprehensive education and training learning disabilities in our universities, and a Do No Harm oath, add in training on the emotional impact of shame, vulnerability, anxiety, depression and suicide, it’s still not enough.

All of the above being really and truly successful hinges on a few key additional elements:

  1. Fund education.
    1. This means fund the programs, fund the curriculum, fund the laws (like IDEA), stop spending money in stupid ways (private contracts to lobbying firms selling agenda items like charter schools en mass with tax payer dollars, STAAR, $70MM+ high school football stadiums for example), stop paying consultants, etc.
  2. Appropriate class sizes.
    1. This means no more than 14-17 (I’d prefer no more than 14) per class per teacher.  Ever.
  3. Pay our teachers.
    1. These men and women are responsible for educating the citizenry of our country and teaching the next generation.  We hand them our children and expect them to love and educate them the vast majority of the year.  Why are we not paying these people equivalent to the responsibility we lay at their feet?  How asinine is it that so many of our teachers are one paycheck away from homelessness?  They deserve pay equal to their responsibility, which is a minimum of 6 figures.

With all of these elements, now you’ve done enough.  Now you are no longer tilting at windmills.

You’ve solved literacy.  You’ve solved dyslexia and all other learning disabilities.

In this dynamic too, you’ve solved a lot of the parent/teacher struggle and lack of respect (this goes both ways).

You do not solve the home environment factors, but I don’t want anyone inside of my home telling me how to raise my child, so I am not about to talk about this subject.  I’ll stay out of your home if you stay out of mine.

But, back to my point.

Now you’ve gutted and rebuilt education where literacy is the number one priority, and if literacy is the priority, all other content is easily overcome.

But, as one woman, that’s a daunting challenge.  I’ll work for it, but how much will I achieve?  But, if we all joined together, we would tilt at windmills no more.

Windmill 2.PNG

Because together, nothing is indestructible.


Let me be clear, I know it’s not just Literacy that needs addressing in education. All subjects have been tainted, torn down, destroyed in some manner or other. I am fully aware of these facts and I am for the dismantling and rebuilding of education as we know it. I support the modernization of education but not with fad theories. Don’t even get me started on core curriculum. Those must all go the way of the dodo. I also support the Socratic method.

Literacy and dyslexia are clearly near and dear to my heart so that is what I choose to focus on above.

Thank you for reading!

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