“He’s too stupid to learn”


Thomas Edison

That was said about the inventor and businessman Thomas Edison in a note sent home with him from his teacher when he as only six years old.

Richard Branson, Eddie Izzard, Jeremy Clarkson, Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Tom Cruise and Theo Paphitis are all the same as Edison, because they’re dyslexic. In one way or another they struggle with the written word on the page or screen. And I you consider their collective achievements – many involving reading and writing.

Firstly before the slings and arrows are brought out, I want to clarify that I fully support all the support and additional help those who have to live with Dyslexia get in our education system and the level playing field that is provided for them through readers, scribes etc is wholly right. Not suffering from it myself my outsiders opinion may cross lines, but that is not my intention here – I have a simple question to pose: Does the fact that these people have or had dyslexia make them great because they had to overcome the learning difficulty or were they great already?

Consider it: if you struggle to read and write because of dyslexia but have a drive and a passion within you would you still be as successful, or even more so perhaps because you had to fight harder? If you consider someone like Spielberg or Leonardo Da Vinci they were born to do the things they ended up doing regardless of this obstacle. I do genuinely wonder having heard Eddie Izzard talk about his own dyslexia it has made him stronger and more determined to overcome the things life throws at him. He hasn’t been held back because of it – apart from in the one-size-fits-all school system – and in his adult life it has not stopped his amazing success as a comedian and writer.

The other issue with speaking to experts in giving educational support for these types of this “disability” is that sticking the label on the problem doesn’t actually make any real difference – it’s how you then use that label and the individual’s needs to assess what will actually help them. While I definitely don’t support the school of “they’re thick” or “they’re lazy” that still exists in society, I do wonder if giving them too much support and not allowing their natural instinct to better themselves as the famous names above did, is in some way holding them back as much as the dyslexia.

Today Sally Gardner won the prestigious Carnegie Medal for her novel “Maggot Moon” – both she and the main character in the book are dyslexic, and like Edison she was branded “Unteachable”. Her success is in the face f an education that she herself brands as “a comedy of errors”. In her acceptance speech she slated the proposed changes put forward by Michael “Pob” Gove: “If I had been lucky enough to be educated in this enlightened age with Michael Gove and his standardized tests calling the shots, I would currently be considered… thick, uneducable and other words that wouldn’t be considered PC to use today,” she said. Her point is a fair one – do we actually have a system that allows the obvious creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and talent that the 10% of the UK with Dyslexia (4% severely) – I think the answer is no. I also question the blanket support – and that is not the fault of underfunded and understaffed ASN departments – that is given in schools; is there a better way to allow these kids to develop their learning in a way they can adapt to rather than being spoon-fed and guided through it all by others?

Churchill, possibly our greatest leader in the UK, was dyslexic and growing up he wouldn’t have had the kind of support in place our school kids enjoy – if we had given him the support would he have been as great a leader and as driven a man? Would WB Yeats been as great a poet? It’s such an interesting subject because you can see the greats like Ali and Disney were not given the right support in school but still became the best at what they did. Yes we need to support these kids and adults with dyslexia and other reading and writing difficulties, but is it always the best approach to give them everything available – and by doing so are you stopping them from becoming leaders in their respective fields?


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