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Manipulating Language

My son is facing an interesting conundrum.

It started a few weekends ago when he got mad at a friend of his and when I tried to broker peace my son got mad at me too.

I should explain that my son plays his emotions close to his chest.  He doesn’t like to talk about what’s going on with him, never has.  Over the course of his short life I’ve tried to help him navigate his emotions and “find his words.”  For example, naturally toddlers shove and throw things when they are angry, so I would take the opportunity to say, and it’s something I continue to say when he’s out of line, “It’s ok for you to be angry with me, but you do not get to be mean to me.  Use your words and we will talk about it when you are ready.”

This has been a successful tactic.  He has an amazing vocabulary and phrases things in the most interesting way.  I remember once, about 3 years ago, he was upset with his father after they had a disagreement, and he said to me, “He’s as nice as a flower to you and as mean as a bear to me.”  I remember being highly impressed with how he phrased it which is why I remember it.

I also cherish the times he does choose to open up to me.  We have good conversations that I hope are valuable, meaningful.  He does tend to open up much more to his father than he does to me.  I don’t know why.

Anyway, like I said he was mad at me, and sat in front of me and spilled the contents of his heart out at my feet, holding back tears, and blowing me away.

young mother with son resting on sea coast happy family together talking lifestyle people concept.jpg

Each year someone adds 10% to the weight my shoulders carry, but then I turned 10 and it was more than 10%.  Then I entered 5th grade and it’s more weight then I can carry.  I can’t carry this.  I can’t.

I didn’t know what to do with that.  I knew I had to clarify some details though if I was to get to a place where I could even respond.

Are you talking about school?  Friends?  Your dad and I?  Everyone?

Everyone and school.  Why does school stop teaching you facts when you leave 4th grade?

What do you mean, “stop teaching you facts?”

They don’t teach facts anymore, only strategies, and I hate it.  It’s too hard.  I hate it all.

He didn’t elaborate about people.  I had to circle back around to that one, but I had to deal with this information and quickly.  Unfortunately, I also needed to give that a good think, plus we had company and I wasn’t going to deal with this while we had company because that would be rude to them.  I managed to broker peace between the boys and left them to keep playing.

The next day I cuddled up next to him and discussed the “people” part of this equation.  Turns out he can’t stand being interrupted.  It hurts his feelings because people jump to conclusions that are usually wrong, and he never gets to explain himself and finish what he is saying.  This is a two-fold problem.

1) He is a child so people lose patience and in our “adult natures” just know better, derive conclusions from our own experiences and pre-conceived notions and leap to the end thereby correcting or solving whatever needs correcting or solving.

2) He is dyslexic, thinking in pictures, not words and it takes him a long time to say what he’s trying to say.  Where he starts may not be connected to where he ends up.  For a non-dyslexic it takes the intellectual choice to develop patience with this communication and allow him to get to where he wants / needs to with what he’s saying so you can answer, guide, or just flat out listen to the statement he is dying to share.

So the portion that him tearfully pouring his heart out to me, while a work in progress, is at least understood by me, and as a family we are working on our communication and patience.

But, the school one I couldn’t unpack.  My mind was racing, trying to work through that one.  Both teacher conferences and an ARD are coming up and I was chewing on this tidbit, knowing I needed to get to the bottom of it.  Then one morning I emptied his backpack.

He had a 73 on a math test because he missed 4 questions.  Bear in mind math is his favorite subject and one in which he excels.  I flipped through and read the 4 questions he missed.  The last one took me 5 minutes to figure out and I’m 46 years old with an MBA.  Maybe it was because I had just woken up, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.  As a consequence I’ve shown it to several people and all but one, my husband, were flummoxed for several minutes as well.

Here is the question:

If rounded to the nearest dime, what is the greatest number that would round to $5.20?

a) $5.17

b) $5.19

c) $5.24

d) $5.25

wunderkind little girl schoolgirl with a book from the blackboard with physical formulas

Genuinely try to work out the answer, which I’ll tell you later.

Standing there reading and rereading the question, as a non-dyslexic, who is highly educated, I was stumped.  What I instantly noticed was the language itself.  It’s a trick question.  The author of the question has skillfully worded it to trip one up on what the answer could be.

If you follow William Van Cleave and attended any of his writing seminars, you know some of the tricks he’s taught to get you to the crux of language and it’s meaning.  When I originally stood there and read the question I had not yet attended one of his seminars.  Now that I have, the answer is even more clear; however, that’s not the point.

What is the point is that for a 10 year old child (or any age for that matter) that has dyslexia which is a LANGUAGE PROCESSING DISORDER, is this question fair?

Intentionally trying to trip up your student with the language is achieving what?

I can argue both for and against critical thinking, but is the point to think critically in the math question itself just to get to the answer, which I can argue is not gained in a trick question because then it’s a literary exercise not a mathematical one, or can literary critical thinking be better achieved through teaching deconstruction, once one masters a certain level of skilled reading?  After all, literary deconstruction is the hallmark of every English college curriculum across this country.  I should know, I was an English major and deconstruction is not easy to do.  It’s subjective and given the right (read: “wrong”) classroom environment, will put you on the wrong side of the professor due to differing opinions over the characters aim, flaws, ineptitude, heroism, desires, motivation, etc.

The answer to the question above, by the way, is $5.24.

So, as I delve into my son’s frustration with school, what I find is what I expected to happen in Jr. High, not 5th grade, but I do live in Texas and our educational doctrine is all things STAAR.  What this means is constant kill and drill on STAAR based material all year long, e.g. the question above.

What my son doesn’t yet realize is the trick of the language, and that it is the source of his frustration with these strategies.  Well, that and constant kill and drill STAAR prep.

For a child with dyslexia which is again, a LANGUAGE PROCESSING DISORDER, trick language is just that, a trick, and one that is likely going to trip up our children over and over again.  It’s a successful ruse that results in defeat, not success.

So as I stand at the threshold of yet another ARD meeting, armed with a new evaluation, less than stellar school performance and frustrated teachers, I have a lot to ponder.  With the revealed frustrations of my son one I can solve, the other I cannot.  I cannot single-handedly change the curriculum to suit my son, no matter how good of an advocate I am.  What I do understand is that this is yet another curve in the dyslexia journey we are on, and we must find a way to keep travelling.  I have to find a way to help him navigate manipulated language to be successful.

And, by the way, as we all know, critical thinking is the key to a successful life, but once you get out of school, there are no trick math questions.  You may not have all of the information and have to dive in to find the variables so you can calculate the answer, but the math is straightforward.

Beautiful girl in autumn forest reading a book covered with a warm blanket.a woman sits near a tree in an autumn forest and holds a book and. Girl reading a book

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