I often reflect back on the group of High School boys I taught only a few years ago. While each had a specific vision-related problem with reading, their general intelligence was reflected in the conversations we had, and in their ability to articlate sophisticated criticism on any number of topics - often laced with colourful language (often inspired by their frustration with the education they were receiving). At the Grade 9 level, they informed me, they had been exempt from an English course because they were - in their own words - "too stupid". Eight months later, not only did seven of them sit the Grade 10 Literacy Exam, four of them PASSED!
Almost any one of these boys could take apart a truck engine and rebuild it. Some, whom I had taught four years earlier, had been driving forestry roads and tinkering with mechanics from age ten or twelve. Not much stupidity in that.
Each had a specific difficulty with reading. One could read and define any given word in isolation (he is the basis of "Narrow Columns for Dyslexic Readers"). Another had a "familial tremor" which might have made his eyes shake as much as his hands. A third reported to our "Vice-Principal" that I was unlikely to take him back into class because we had had "a formidable argument". This particular young man had additional issues, but, only a few weeks ago informed me that the girl who now reads to him, reads more than just Harry Potter - "She has much more eclectic taste than that!" he excalimed. This particular individual loves words, but develops a pain behind his ear on one side, when he read more than a few lines at a time.
A fourth boy had a difficulty I never did understand, but one that he had analysed as best he could. His typing speed and accuracy were incredible, but, he explained, he simply could not do two things at once. When a short story based on personal experience was assigned, he lamented "But I can't think and type at the same time! I can only type when someone tells me the words." Nor could he read and type at the same time. The solution came in assigning him a partner - the boy whose hands cramped during prolonged writing activity. These two laughed and chatted as they put their story together at the back of the class. The result was a credible and highy entertaining account of a jeep accident involving a local drunk who had failed to arrive to pick them up from a hunt camp. It ended with them hiking out of the forest to find the drunk sitting in a ditch next to the tipped jeep, shouting obscenities. (No lack of enthusiasm for direct quotes once there was reassurance that, in quotations, real language could - and should - be accurately recorded!)
What bothered me that year, as it had for fourteen years in a high school in Quebec, was the lack of content in the education these marginalized students receive. I have found no lack of interest in history, geography and science among them. Why does a lack of prolonged reading ability end up denying them a chance to cover these subjects.? Surely there is enough film out there to do the teaching. With all the technical innovations and apps available, why on earth can't someone put together a series of documentaries for history. Attenboroughs Life on Earth covers a lot of Geography. Etc, etc, etc...
If pictures are worth a thousand words, why are we still tied so exclusively to the printed word in education? Yes, every child needs some degree of literacy skill, but we seem to claim the right to deny equal access to information to those who cannot read for extended periods of time (often due to visual - or other - physiological conditions).
To deny educational content that others take for granted, can be perceived as discriminatory and is definitely socially counter-productive.