Work Life Readiness: Equipping Kids’ Minds Before 24

The title of this post is the title of the talk given by Dr Mel Levine in mid-January to parents and teachers in my community on the coast, some 30 miles north of New York City. He captivated us, an audience of about 400, for two complete hours, as he spoke and took questions.

Levine is a pro at presenting, having been doing this for probably over 19 years. (I first heard him speak 19 years ago.) His life’s work is filled with counseling children and young adults, so it is no surprise that both his books and talks are peppered with anecdotes. He looks out at his audience and makes eye contact with those in the front rows, he uses humor but gets serious where needed, and he appreciates that we all listen differently. To that end, he hands out an extensive outline of his talk for those who want to follow along, take notes, or just relax and listen but have something to jog their memory when they’ve gone home. This talk revolved around his 2005 book, Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, which I have not read.

Levine’s handout runs ten typed pages; my notes span one and a half. I attended his talk for many reasons: because I have two sons, one age 23 and the other soon to be 17; because I have always enjoyed hearing Levine speak; because I am a teacher; because I know a student who will be doing a related independent study next year; and because I am interested in the brain and how we learn. So what did he have to say?

Dr Levine began by describing young adults, particularly those who have learning difficulties. These students, he said, are “innocent victims of their own wiring.” That line hits home. Sadly, there have been, and continue to be, teachers who blame the student when work is not done and information is not learned, rather than acknowledging there is always a reason behind the action (or lack of action), figuring out what that reason is (or getting help to figure it out), and then working with the student to deal with that “it”.

Case in point: When a young man I know was in first grade, his teacher was indignant that he did not know his ABCs, and complained that he was not trying hard enough. He was six years old and told his parents that he wasn’t smart because his teacher said he did not know his alphabet. It turned out he had an auditory processing dysfunction and was dyslexic. Can you imagine what it feels like, at the young age of six, to already feel you are not smart?

Having an auditory processing issue coupled with dyslexia meant, for this child, that he was unable to put sounds to letters of the alphabet and often misheard words that did not have definitive sounds, thus misinterpreting what he heard. Multistep oral directions were difficult for him to process and follow. Reversals filled his writing, meaning that several letters and numbers resembling other letters or numbers were flipped with one another. (For instance, upper case “E” and the number “3”, the numbers “9” and “6”, lower case “p” and “q”, and so on.) The hearing of language, which comes naturally to most of us, was a foreign affair. An intense finger grip made written language both physically and mentally tiring to write. He was, as Mel Levine says, an innocent victim of his own wiring.

Next post: Dealing with the issues.

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