Teaching a Fish to Climb a Tree: The Conflict of Dyslexia

by Salvvatore Sciascia ’22

Source: The Teaching Bank

Published Oct. 20th, 2021

Focusing only on students’ weaknesses rather than their strengths limits their potential and confidence. Albert Einstein’s quote, “everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid,” illustrates some students’ feelings in the traditional school environment.

Like different types of animals, all students possess strengths and weaknesses. Those who have dyslexia are prime examples of this due to their unique brain structure.

The left hemisphere of the brain specializes in fine detail processing, while the right is responsible for holistic or abstract thought. Neurotypical readers use the left hemisphere, but dyslexics use both, leading to an inefficient process of word retrieval. This inefficiency affects dyslexics because of its tedious processes to help with these difficulties with reading and spelling.

Upon being corrected on their mistakes, though, they often make the same mistake a few moments later. This cycle leads many with dyslexics to feel intimidated, inadequate, and self-conscious.  

Ms. O’Reilly, a Montgomery special education teacher, says “dyslexics tend to hate school, because naturally reading and writing is implemented in all subjects…. It is sad to see students take standardized tests who were not able to read any of the tests, and cry as a result.” It is these kinds of degrading experiences that leave students feeling defeated and demoralized. 

In events such as these, a common byproduct of dyslexia is anxiety, originating from various childhood experiences. Students often develop a heightened anxiety and self conscious feelings towards reading and spelling. 

Despite this, dyslexics display many traits such as pattern recognition, enhanced visualization, and outside the box thinking. This unique brain structure opens doors outside of the high school curriculum. The problem is schools don’t effectively show their students what they may be good at, but do an excellent job at reminding them of the skill they will always lack.  

Dyslexia makes many students with dyslexia feel similar to the proverbial fish, believing it is stupid because it is inherently flawed relative to the expected task. Measuring a student’s ability based upon the performance of specific tasks does not fairly determine the individual’s potential. The tree is not a bad educational metric, the problem is it is the only one.