Paul Orfalea's Experience With Learning Differences
An Excerpt from Two Billion Dollars in Nickels: Reflections on the Entrepreneurial Life, by Paul Orfalea with Dean Zatkowsky (BookSurge: 2008):
Although society’s understanding of dyslexia and ADHD is improving, too many people still equate “difference” with “disability.” Every disability may be a difference, but not every difference is a disability. Children are sometimes branded “learning disabled,” even when it is their schools that actually lack ability. Schools that still treat education as a “one-size-fits-all” endeavor resent individualized instruction, which they consider inefficient. But our growing awareness of learning differences puts more enlightened schools in a difficult position: within the constraints of budgets and teaching skills, how can we best serve students with differences?
What if we reframe the question? What if every student learns in a different way and at a different pace? That’s right: what if everyone has a learning difference? Some may fit more neatly into traditional teaching templates, but does that make others “disabled?”
We hire specialists to identify and label disabilities, but we should be learning to recognize and support hidden abilities. To be successful in school, you must be good at everything, but to be successful in life, you only have to be good at one or two things. I recognize the importance of a well-rounded education, but some people take a roundabout path to get there. For them, school should be a part of the journey paved with small victories, not an impassable mountain of accumulated failures and dismissive labels.
Many of my Kinko’s coworkers attended the Management Action Program. Among other things, the workshop requires attendees to face a stark – and often harsh – appraisal of their professional strengths and weaknesses. But rather than dwell on weaknesses, as most people do, the program teaches attendees how to focus more attention on their strengths. Unless they are dangerous, weaknesses are to be ignored or marginalized.
Instead of obsessing over what a student cannot do, we should help each student make the most of his or her individual strengths, because you don’t make a difference in this world by trying to be the same as everyone else. That’s true in business and in the pursuit of happiness.