DUNKIRK - The education system has to be more willing to bend with the needs of some learning-disabled children.
Jonathan Mooney truly believes that message - because he's lived it.
"Your kids are not broken," said a guest speaker to a crowd of almost 30 parents and children at the Jamestown Community College North Campus on Wednesday.
Jonathan Mooney, writer and activist, speaks to a crowd of parents and children during his “Learning Diversity — A Compass to a Changing World” forum Wednesday.
P-J?photo by Andrew Carr
Jonathan Mooney, writer and activist with dyslexia, spoke to the crowd concerning alternative education and the issues that come with it, in a forum titled "Learning Diversity - A Compass to a Changing World."
Mooney, who did not learn to read until he was 12 years old, was diagnosed "with everything under the sun," he said.
When he was in fourth grade, he was labeled learning disabled, in fifth grade with ADHD and in sixth grade with clinical depression. He then dropped out of school for two years, and had a plan for suicide.
Before graduating from Brown University with an honors degree in English Literature, he published his first book, "Learning Outside the Lines." He has since empowered audiences across the country, changing the way teachers and parents approach students with learning and behavioral differences - and most importantly, how students view themselves, according to Liz Fox, Mooney's publicist. He is also the co-founder of Project Eye-to-Eye which is a mentoring program for learning-disabled children and is also a winner of the Truman Scholarship for graduate studies in creative writing and education and was a national finalist for a Rhodes scholarship.
The twice-published author spoke at three different locations throughout Chautauqua County including the Chautauqua Lake Central school, to about 300 students, the Chautauqua Institution to professionals in the alternative education occupation, and to parents and children at JCC North Campus.
The morning session, where Mooney spoke to students, was broadcast to many classrooms throughout the country.
His "somewhat controversial message" involves changing education in the circumstance of learning disabled children.
"There is not the best correlation between the things that make you successful in school and the things that make you successful in life," he said.
"For me, what constitutes a successful life is meaningful work and meaningful relationships," he said.
Three fundamental changes to the lives of these students involve changing their self-concept, surrounding themselves with committed people who empower them and making these students realize that brains that are different are not deficient but valuable in this world, he said.
In order to change the way the students see themselves, they must overcome a negative self-concept.
"Often the way that a young person is treated forms this negative self-concept," he said.
Being labeled stupid, crazy or lazy, these students become trapped in these identities, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, he said.
"As my grandmother used to say, 'Difficult children make interesting adults' and I think we need to tell kids that," he said. "We narrowly identify and classify kids with a narrow definition of intelligence. There are a lot of different ways to be smart. Many young people who appear lazy have just given up, however they are simply motivated by different things in different ways. Growing up with a label is a pervasive assault on your sense of self. School is often the ground-zero battlefield."
These students need to choose activities and master something that needs to be purposeful to themselves in order to be motivated, he said.
Learning-disabled students must also have an advocate in their corner, a person who will unconditionally fight for them against a system that does not understand them, he said.
"We think there is a magic bullet in medication."
A personal connection with the students must be demanded by their advocates, and they must be willing to fight tooth and nail in order to get these students treated in the proper manner, he said.
"Your strengths are as or more important then your weaknesses," he said.
We must also challenge the myth that there is a normal brain that we should aspire to, he said.
The forum was made possible through Chautauqua Tapestry, the University at Buffalo Department of Social Work and the Chautauqua County Department of Social Services.