Growing Among Sharks
By: G Wayne
Copyright © 9/9/11
"I am sorry to inform you that your son G is well behind his fellow students in all his studies. We have tried to give him special assistance, but our efforts have failed to produce a favorable outcome," Principal Alsup said in a commiserative, although condescending, voice.

"That's right!" Mrs. Willit, G's teacher, exclaimed, "I have tried everything to motivate your son and nothing worked. I am sorry to have to say this, but he is just not very . . . "

Principal Alsup cut in, "Thank you for your input, Mrs. Willet, and I concur that your son is not, at this time, working on the level of his classmates. I refrain from using the word "retarded", but your son needs considerably more time than the other students to digest the information we present. Often, he exhibits a total lack of understanding."

"I know how hard it must be to realize problems in your own child, but I believe it may be as simple as laziness," offered Mrs. Willet with a placating smile.

"I don't understand, G is unusual, but he seems like such a bright boy; he knows so much about electricity," said Mrs. Wayne.

"It is commendable that your son takes an interest in a specific branch of science; however, at this level of education, we need to focus on our students grasping practical skills and basic knowledge. G has not been able to fit into this process," said Mrs. Willet.

"Please understand that we would like to see your son prosper as we do all of our students. Mrs. Willet and I have discussed this matter thoroughly and have discovered a trend of your son needing more time to assimilate his lessons. We concur that in the interest of your son's education, he should repeat the third grade. This may seem harsh, but it will give him the time he needs to catch up to his classmates."

Mrs. Willet nodded vigorously in agreement, and her eyes feigned tender compassion.

As the parents walked off down the hall, Mr. Alsup turned to Mrs. Willet, "You know you may be stuck with him for another year?"

She glared back with an indignant frown, "That's not fair; I've put in more than my share of time working with that lost cause."

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And there it was, the moment my childhood fell apart, a single blow that would inflict pain for over a decade. That amounts to a long time when you are eight years old. I was sentenced to grow up one year behind my classmates and branded a scholastic loser. Throughout my primary education, that tag became an anchor that hindered my education and my life. Sometimes I would try, but was expected to fail and eventually I gave up, fulfilling their expectations.

I bought into their thinking: They are right. There is something wrong with me. I'm just dumb. Why should I bother trying? My class members, now one year ahead of me, were more than willing to confirm this view in no uncertain terms. My new classmates saw me as a misfit that was one year older and discarded into their class. They either looked down on me as if I were simple or scorned me for being lazy. I was frequently, not so furtively, reminded to be ashamed of my learning inabilities. That was the nature of my scholastic prison that held no apparent possibility of parole. Nine years old and seeing only a dim future.

I began to create a social shell where I could hide from the ridicule and disappointment of failed attempts to succeed. In this private world, I mysteriously found things that I was surprisingly good at, things that were simple to me, although seemed beyond the grasp of my fellow students. This was hard to understand, yet it offered a spark of self-worth. My new found skills were incongruent with the way I was viewed and the way I viewed myself.

It is important to disclose, at this point, that I have no regrets as to the injustice of my childhood. To varying degrees, all children must suffer the rule of less than competent adults. I just happened to fall under the control of educators that proved to be more inept than their pears. I was fortunate enough to cultivate an ability as a conscientious objector, "Quando omni flunkus, moritati," when all else fails, play dead! (Courtesy of Red Green)

Growing up in an adverse environment forced me to recognize and develop my particular talents. I discovered a world that was reluctant to recognize my abilities, but welcomed the fruits of my aptitudes. My goal is to relate my experience in developing and exercising skills in a world that claims you have none. You can find what works for you. You can find your own path, and there are people out there that can, and will, help you deal with your struggles.

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Although the term "Dyslexia" was coined in 1887, very few serious studies have focused on this problem. It remained synonymous with mental retardation for the better part of the 20th century. This impairment of comprehension, for the most part, would not be studied or basically understood until the 1970s. Educators tended to reject Dyslexia theories and if they agreed, had no means to help correct this problem. I have no recollection of this term being used during my childhood, and not until in my fifties, finally started to realize it applied to me.

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Reading comprehension has always been a stumbling block. Its adverse effects were so devastating that I almost gave up on accomplishing anything that took even the most insignificant mental effort. My mind seems to have a mind of its own. It does not operate in the same manner as other people's. When following a written or spoken train of thought, one concept can generate an avalanche of ideas that will usurp my focus. By the time my awareness returns and I want to be back on the train . . . it is gone, leaving me in the academic dust. If you ask me, "What comes after August?" I still need to start from June to figure it out. For some reason, I have trouble relating August directly to September. While writing this sentence, I typed August and thought: June, July, August, September, and then typed September. It is as if I need a running start. Sometimes, my brain edits as I read and substitutes what it considers to be proper. I actually see different words than the ones printed on the page. Again, I was very fortunate to discover other abilities and insightful people that were willing to help me along the road to becoming a prosperous adult.

I loved to discover how things worked. I would take apart anything I could get my hands on just to see what was inside. Unfortunately, it took a while before learning how to get things back together in working condition. I believe I inherited this mentality from my father. Ever since, well, ever since I can remember, electronics has been a part of my life. When I was five years old, I was able to properly wire a bulb socket to a cord and make the bulb light up.

When my father found out, he was furious, "What the hell are you doing? Don't you know you could electrocute yourself, or worse, burn the house down!"

I was accustom to his outbursts at my childhood mistakes, but this time he was having difficulty hiding a smile and I think he radiated a little pride. My father was an Electrical Engineer and that's all I have ever wanted to be. I remember being amazed while watching him perform his coveted hobby. He would get so engrossed while working on the exposed chassis of televisions that in those days, where a nest of wires, components, and vacuum tubes attached to a steel frame. With soldering gun in hand, he mystified me with smoke that rose into the air as he joined the ends of components together with the deftness of a surgeon.

"What are you doing, Dad, what's that? Hey, what's that round thing with the wires sticking out?" I would persist.

"Can't you see I'm in the middle of something here? I don't mind if you watch, son, but I have to concentrate on what I'm doing."

Sometimes he would go back to work, but other times he would put his soldering gun down and give me his attention. "It's a condenser, also called a capacitor."

"Why does it have two names?"

"I don't know; that's just the way it worked out," he would say as he nervously scratched at the back of his neck.

"What does a con-denser do?"

"It stores an electrical charge, like the battery in your flashlight, only for a short time. It's like a short-time battery," he would say with an understanding smile.

"How long will it hold a charge?"

"Well, it's more about how fast it will charge up. This measurement is called a Farad. A Farad is a measurement of a capacitor's storage potential."

"What's potential mean?"

He would consider my question as he pulled his pack of Lucky Strikes from his pocket and say, "I think I hear your mother calling, you better go upstairs and see what she wants."

I was pretty young, but I understood the code for: get the hell away from me else you're in big trouble. I guess once I actually asked her what she wanted. She studied me with a penetrating look, trying to discover what I was up to and eventually went back to making dinner. Anyway, I found something else to do, and when things had cooled down, returned to closely watching my father work, but not too closely. I discovered if I were quiet, I could stand there for upwards of thirty minutes before he would notice me and shoe me off again. Some of the things he taught me must have stuck. Eventually, people were paying me to fix their TVs.

I spent many hours at my father's workbench discovering the mysteries of his electronic equipment. The oscilloscope's power switch was labeled "ON", so step one was easy and the knobs that made green line on the screen go left, right, up, and down were straightforward. Other controls had a less dramatic effect on its operation, and were more difficult to decipher. I found if I turned the amplitude range Control up to the highest setting, the green line would go all over the place when I touched the probe tip. In time I learned to operate the oscilloscope and the other equipment on my father's workbench, including the most important and coveted tool known to television technicians of that era: the tube tester.

For me, discovery was always a joy. Unlike the process of rote learning exacted by a public education mill that seemed to miss the point, my pursuit in the nature of how things worked provided great pleasure and at times a solace from insensitivity.