How Far We’ve Come

If you work on a project every day for 40 years, pouring your heart and soul into it, your time and treasure, every drop of hope and optimism you can call up in the face of rank ignorance, prejudice and wrong-headedness, you sometimes lose track of how far you’ve come. Squeezing out of yourself as many bright ideas and persuasive words as you can come up with while borrowing what else you need from others, biting your tongue when people take potshots at you, misrepresenting what you said or not bothering to represent it at all, you can feel worn out and forget the good that’s come of all the work.  Calling for help—when you don’t know where else to turn—from whatever spirit presides over lost children and misunderstood adults can help. When you’ve done all this for many decades in efforts to enlighten people and provide them with the good and liberating news about how people learn, you should take a moment to stop and look around. Like climbing a mountain, you don’t often look down to see how far you’ve come.

When I chatted with Bob Broudo, retiring head of the Landmark School in Prides Crossing, Massachusetts, I got a chance to do just that. Bob has spent even more years than I have plowing in the fields of learning differences, doing his best to cultivate understanding and success for the millions of us whose brains work a little differently.  

We’ve come a long way since 1971, when Bob started, and 1981, when I started. We’ve come even further if you go back to when we were kids. In those days there were basically two words to describe a child’s—or adult’s—brain: smart and stupid. For stupid, there was but one treatment, try harder. To motivate you to try harder you’d get humiliated, punished, or ultimately set aside if the trying harder didn’t produce the desired results.

How difficult it was to persuade people how much more there is to intelligence and creativity than smart and stupid. How hard it was for people to believe that some of the greatest contributors to human civilization, some of our greatest geniuses, were actually deemed stupid as children. And how many of our most productive, innovative adults never went to college or didn’t even graduate from high school because they either couldn’t do the work or got bored with what was offered, or both.

Having both ADHD and dyslexia myself, I knew firsthand that these conditions, if managed properly, could actually propel a person make unique and lasting contributions. I also knew how often the gifts these people possessed got destroyed growing up by the shame and humiliation they were subjected to.

But now, after decades of climbing, we’re nearing the top of the mountain. Now, as Bob Broudo is retiring and I’m heading into my 73rd year, we’re finally seeing the truth nip at the heels and overtake ignorance, bias, and the cruel practices they beget. 

After I interviewed Bob, I took a deep breath, and said to myself words I rarely let myself say. “Good job, Ned”. I also want to say those words to the multitude who’ve helped, from the early scientists to all of you reading this piece today. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t also part of this great and momentous effort, part of the ongoing mission to free millions from the shackles of misunderstanding, mistreatment, and subsequent underachievement if not failure, incarceration, addiction, depression, marginalization, and early death caused by ignorance about how the brain works.

Take a moment to give three cheers and a hip-hip-hooray for all of us, today and before. Pause and pat yourselves on the back. If ever there were an invisible minority, we’re it. If ever there were a misunderstood group, we’re it. And if ever a group had more to give, more potential to tap, and more white-fire passion to deliver the goods once we’re freed up and our talent unleashed, we’re it.

Bless you, all of you different ones. Bless all of you who’ve worked and continue to work to free these people to add their special destinies to benefit our world.

 
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