Sunday 25 September 2016

'You are just a good-for-nothing dunce'

John Masterson

Published 19/10/2015 | 02:30

Dyslexic Awareness week took place recently
Dyslexic Awareness week took place recently

I am very glad to say that the word 'dunce' is no longer in regular use. I always thought it was a very ugly word. I conjured up images of someone who was 'good for nothing', which was also a phrase one used to hear a lot more than one does today.

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The politically correct brigade drive me mad and I am always more impressed when someone changes their behaviour than when they change their language. Today, it would be entirely unacceptable for a teacher to call a pupil a dunce and for once I totally agree.

Dyslexic Awareness week took place earlier this month and I spent a little time listening to a man who had vivid memories of being called a dunce. He clearly remembers being made to stand facing into the corner with a pointed hat on. He was told he was stupid so often that he had no difficulty at all believing it.

He wasn't stupid. He was dyslexic. Unfortunately for him, he went to school at a time when we knew a lot less about psychology and reading difficulties. He is now 60 and I think it would be fair to say he has never recovered from the torture, for that is what it was, that he was subjected to as a child. He was, of course, bullied. And that is not to mention the beatings. Like many people, he said the beatings are much easier to forget.

The man was in mid-life when the real reason for his difficulty with words was identified. It made a huge difference to him to have a label that made sense and to realise that he was far from alone in the difficulties that he had. But it was probably too late for him to ever fully catch up on what he had missed.

That did not matter hugely. He was able to go about his business, which was farming. He was happily married and his wife understood that he was not stupid and that he was a good husband and that is what mattered.

Like any person who has problems with literacy, he developed myriad coping skills. At a restaurant, he would not be able to read the menu but he would wait until someone else had ordered and then say that he would go for that too as it sounded tasty or something like that. With the help of his wife, he got through difficulties with understanding correspondence from the bank or a solicitor. He got on with life.

But that was nearly 20 years ago. Now, farming requires so many documents that it just got too much and he retired way before his time. He pointed out to me that he could not complete courses that you need before handing chemicals, as there are all sorts of health and safety regulations these days. He pointed out that he could not even read the instructions on the bottle. He was not bitter but I felt bitter for him.

We have come a long way. We are not any smarter than we were but less people are told they are stupid. That man is just one of many who had his life ruined by an ignorant education system.

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