On Being 17, Bright, and Unable to Read

“With bad reports coming from school, and with me moaning about wanting to die and how everybody hated me, my parents began looking for help. That’s when the testing started. The school tested me, the child- guidance center tested me, private psychiatrists tested me. Everybody knew something was wrong- especially me.”

This excerpt from David Raymond, summarizes his experience with education.

It’s so sad to think that just because someone learns differently than others they are treated as if there is something wrong with them.


 We, as a society, have made a mold, where students are equal, can be tested as such, and should be treated equally. If someone does not fit that mold then it must be because they’re lazy, apathetic, hormonal children and we must test them until they are average! When, in reality, we are not all the same and we’re never going to be. This kind of an attitude is why someone like David said he wanted to die because he couldn’t read. He felt pressured to be exactly like everyone else, because if he wasn’t, that must have meant he was worthless. David couldn’t read as easily as the rest of his peers. But that does not mean he should have to go home crying, feeling worthless, and wanting to die.  A problem as small as not being able to read became a question so great. Do I have any worth? That is the main struggle David dealt with.


The issue at hand was not his reading disability, but the education system. You can’t cram a mechanical pencil into a pencil sharpener and expect it to come out a perfectly sharpened pencil; you need to find a better way for the mechanical pencil to get more lead. David says when they discovered there was a problem they began testing him, his peers began teasing him, and they put him in with the special needs students. Much like a mechanical pencil in a pencil sharpener, he broke, and had no confidence to try anything for fear of failure. Then one summer he reluctantly went to a camp where kids had the same issues he did. That was when he realized he was not stupid; in fact he had an above average intelligence. They found out he has a 90 percent IQ. That IQ was in David the entire time, but it wasn’t until they found the best way for him to learn that they discovered it.


I am terrible at math, I always have been and I always will be. I suck at science, social studies makes me fall asleep, and I’m a fairly slow reader. So basically the only thing I could do in Elementary school was recess. I didn’t get bad grades and wasn’t put in any remedial courses, but nothing came easy to me, so like any child who isn’t perfect at everything, I felt I wasn’t good at anything. It wasn’t until high school when I discovered theatre that I realized I wasn’t made to sit and figure out the hypotenuse or hypothesis or any other hypo stuff I’ll never understand, I was made for theatre, I just didn’t know it yet. If I had sat back and never done anything out of fear of failure I never would have found my worth. No matter how hard the teachers tried to get me to excel at all those other subjects I was never going to, because I will never fit that mold. David is trying to let people know that just because you cannot do what others can, does not mean you have no worth. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, take hope in the fact that Albert Einstein couldn’t talk until he was four and he flunked math. You will be just fine.


22 thoughts on “On Being 17, Bright, and Unable to Read

  1. I really like how you connected David Raymond’s personal experiences with dyslexia to a personal experience of yours. It actually made me understand this reading better and what exactly Raymond was trying to express. Although he struggled with dyslexia and he let it stop him from pursuing anything in the beginning, he learned to live with it and he learned it was a part of who he was. It wasn’t until he found out that he had a higher IQ than 90 percent of the people at the camp did he then realize that it was okay to suffer from dyslexia. On September 4, 2013 a friend from my hometown passed from epilepsy-She was diagnosed with it a year ago and had just recently posted on social media how she was glad epilepsy was a part of her because it shaped who she actually was and she wasn’t going to let it change her. Sadly, it took her life too soon-but like Raymond eventually did…they both learned to live with what they had and weren’t going to let people discourage them from pursuing their dreams.

  2. I really admire the way you picked a brief excerpt from the essay that sums up David’s learning experience as a child. It was hard for me to understand this essay because I do not know what it’s like to grow up not knowing how to read. In fact, when I was in preschool, I received an “Excellent Reader” award. I always enjoyed reading at a very young age, before I started school. And because I practiced reading with my parents, I could read at an exceptional level in preschool. As I read this essay, I struggled to imagine how difficult it must have been for David when he couldn’t read or talk as well as his peers. When I was young, I was extremely sensitive over the littlest things, so I can imagine how upset and embarrassed David felt when the other students made fun of him. You did a really good job by comparing his situation to a mechanical pencil in a pencil sharpener. It made me understand that when someone is different, you can’t force them to adapt to the ways everyone else learns, or they will break.

  3. I actually thought that this article was pretty interesting. I do agree that it is sad that people picked on David just because he learned a little differently then the other kids I liked how you said that if someone is not as good as others at something like David was at reading, then they find themselves thinking that they are not as good as everyone else. I did like the example you gave on how you weren’t very good at multiple subjects, but you found a subject that suited you in High School. I also didn’t know that Einstein flunked math, and he was a huge success.

  4. “We, as a society, have made a mold, where students are equal, can be tested as such, and should be treated equally. If someone does not fit that mold then it must be because they’re lazy, apathetic, hormonal children and we must test them until they are average!” I agree totally, no matter what types of learning disabilities individuals have we are all tested to be at or above the “average” student. David Raymond had an extreme difficulty with dyslexia, and it shows the ignorance of some teachers and children when they could not accept him; or how Raymond felt like they were picking on him due to his disability. Communities and times are truly different, Raymond was having to be bused to go a school so he could learn, in my home town we had the resources for every disability in all of the schools in my county. No one was sent to another school for their “problems.” I do not exactly know what Raymond went through but similar to him I had extreme ADD which constrains how much I grasp in the classroom and out of the classroom. I know having learning disadvantages really are hurtful for the learning experience.

  5. I completely agree with the things you wrote and especially when you said, “We, as a society, have made a mold, where students are equal, can be tested as such, and should be treated equally. If someone does not fit that mold then it must be because they’re lazy, apathetic, hormonal children and we must test them until they are average!” Especially in the public school system, teachers pass kids through just so they can graduate and free up space for the next incoming class. That’s how there are kids that are graduating high school that still cannot read above a 3rd grade level or kids that cannot do basic algebra. Some kids, like David Raymond, need special attention and extra time to help them learn these difficult concepts, rather than the teachers just passing them through without caring about the child and their future. I think he and you both wrote great articles and I wish our education system would grasp some of these concepts.

  6. I like how you picked that part of the story. I do agree with you, not everyone should be tested but I do believe there should be some sort of standard otherwise there would not be any way for schools to determine where they need to improve and where they are in good standings. Every student has the a special way they learn whether is it notecards, pictures, or just reading it. I think you could find the students that are at the same learning level and teach them how to learn in a different way that could be more effective then their pervious method.

  7. Wow. I really enjoyed your post. Especially your metaphor with the mechanical pencil. I also think you’re exactly right. No one is going to change instantly simply because they want to fit in, or because a school system says they should. It’s sad to imagine a child going home in tears simply because he or she is different. On the other hand, just like David did, kids can find an alternate way to express their intelligence. All it takes is a little help.

  8. I really how you included that that quote in the first paragraph. It made me feel sad when I read it. I hate hearing about kids like David who feel like they are less than everyone else just because they have a slight learning disability. I completely agree that society has created a mold. It is so wrong, but most people are very quick to judge others. Also, I love the mechanical pencil metaphor you used. It described this situation very well and it was extremely creative.

  9. I completely agree with you and the writer of the article, David Raymond. All students and kids are equal and should be treated equally by everyone. However, even though people say this, it is not always the case. In David Raymond’s situation, many people, including teachers and peers, treated him as if he was less of a person just because he learned differently. The comparison between David and a mechanical pencil in a pencil sharpener was spot on. It describes his situation perfectly. I like how you added your personal experiences to relate to the experiences of David Raymond to help show that people aren’t worthless even if they have some sort of disability.

  10. I see what you are saying here, Brittany. I understand that you have a problem with the current education system, but just to be a Devil’s Advocate, what else could we do? How could we teach every kid unequally, which is what you are proposing. No way can we teach kids one by one, there aren’t enough teachers. We can’t test kids based on what we think they learn, that’s unfair to the kids who studied and worked hard preparing for the tests.
    The type of education of a student is all up to the student themselves. Our generation of students have become lazy, undetermined,and socially-driven, myself included. The importance of a good education has changed over the past few years. Its more important to dress like the best and be socially accepted than it is to work hard in the classroom and succeed academically. Its a problem that the government or the education system can’t fix. It lies on the shoulders of the students who don’t take schooling seriously. I consider myself part of this generation, I spent a good portion of my senior year asleep on the desk in class. This is something that will have to change if we ever want to fix the way we approach our education.

  11. The connections you made between David Raymond’s struggle with dyslexia, the education system, and your own personal experiences definitely opened up my eyes a bit more to the point and view that Raymond was trying to get across. You captured the idea that if something does not fall in society’s range of normal, then it’s automatically frowned upon, when in fact, every one is different and should be entitled to their own set of expectations; not a general set for a whole population. You expressed your thoughts and feelings with such precision that it really opened my eyes to a problem that society has that I’ve never really thought about because it’s just so normal. Overall, your response was a beneficial and very well put together one.

  12. Brittany, I like that you pointed out that the real problem was not with David but with the schools and the expectations of others. Your story shows us that many people need education to meet them where they are rather than expect them to rise or fall to a standard.

  13. I like the way that you chose a side to the issue at hand. I also enjoyed reading what you thought about how the educational system treated David Raymond. I absolutely agree that all children that go to any time of schooling are basically created fit a certain mold. As you stated this way of going about educating doesn’t always work, in fact it sometimes makes it harder for a student to learn because they are always getting distracted by being tested or peer bullying them. I liked that you used your personal life to support your writing.

  14. I love the metaphor you used with a mechanical pencil and a pencil sharpener. You’re exactly right in saying that not everyone learns the same and sometimes it takes going to great lengths to understand something that might come easier to other people. David Raymond wasn’t at fault, he was just born differently. And the fact that people hated him for it, shows how close-minded people are. Everyone is different and every person is going to be faced with their own personal challenges. But they wouldn’t have these challenges if they weren’t strong enough to overcome them. David Raymond was not stupid, he was actually very intelligent. He just needed a different way of expressing it.

  15. I completely agree with the faults you identified in our educational system, especially back in the 70’s when David Raymond wrote this article. It causes me to reflect and appreciate how articles like these opened up the eyes of many educators, and now schools have created more programs to help children with these disabilities. Not just that, but colleges have also updated Education Major’s curriculum to emphasize the importance of not just teaching a student one way, but adapting to how every student learns differently. That’s why I love reading inspirational stories like these, because I see how David Raymond wrote to change the world by sharing his struggles and ridicule through this article. I also loved your analogy of a mechanical pencil being forced into a pencil sharpener. very good way of looking at it!

  16. School and learning is a very competitive field in which most students strive to excel and be the best. It is hard to be the one who watches the naturally smart and gifted students excel without a struggle. I was definitely one of those kids who has to work extra hard to receive the grades I wanted.

    It’s terrible to think that society has formed an opinion that if you cannot do something that everyone else can do, then there is something wrong with you. I have gone through my own phases where I felt left out because I didn’t know how to do something that most people knew how to do. It’s so easy to feel discouraged about not knowing how to do something, but it isn’t an issue. People learn differently than others, and we all have different gifts.

    David Raymond was lucky to realize that there really wasn’t anything wrong with him and that he had different skill sets that allowed him to excel elsewhere. There are still many people out there who get discouraged and aren’t able to pick their feet back up again.

    I really enjoyed your blog post, and I could definitely feel as if you had a real connection to the piece by Raymond.

  17. I really enjoyed the connections you made about Raymond’s dyslexia, especially the mechanical pencil in the pencil sharpener. This pointed out that you need the right tool for the job, and that teachers didn’t take the time out of their day to find these tools. Administration took the easy way out and thought he was “special” and not as smart as the rest of the students when in fact he really was. Personally I have never had to feel like this because I have always been able to read since a young age. I know that if I was 17 and couldn’t read I would have already started checking out on many aspects of life because reading get you everywhere, you read in restaurants, grocery stores, on TV, and even when you are driving. So if i could not do many of these thing I could see myself definitely checking out mentally.

  18. I totally agree! Our education system’s teachings and test are so cookie cutter that David never had the chance to show how truly intelligent he was. And I really liked your example of a mechanical pencil in a pencil sharpener. Although it may work help the majority of pencils, the ones that are different will just break under its pressure. And I love that you found theatre was your strong point. Math has always been the subject I loved and everyone was jealous of that. But I was jealous of the people who were good at English. And you can definitely add Writing to the things you’re good at too!

  19. Between Raymond’s dyslexia, the education system, and your problems as well I found myself indulged with new perspectives. You powerfully made your point about the education system. But how could we change it? What would be the best possible solution or temporary fix towards the group sum learning over individualism? Overall I believe that discovering out different skillsets that sets us apart from the group is figured out through the current education system. It allows us to see our advantages, disadvantages, where we excel, and where we can better ourselves.

  20. I love how you connected this piece to an experience in your life even though you did not struggle with dyslexia. I am just like you in that math is a subject that I will never be good at and will have to study extra to understand all the concepts. I love how David used the pencil sharpener analogy because it really gives you the picture of what he is saying. I hate how the school has standardized testing because not everyone’s intelligence can be measured by this type of testing. I am a horrible test taker. I struggled with the SAT and even took a class to help prepare me but it didn’t make significant difference in my score. I am a student no matter what subject will have to study thoroughly to understand the material. I am jealous of those that can put no effort forth and make the same grades I do. Everyone learns in a different way so I think the school should accommodate for all learning styles. It’s sad that David was treated so poorly for a simple case of dyslexia.

  21. It was interesting to see how you connected your personal experiences with Davids. The educational system that we have seems to standardize everyone and if you don’t meet those standards than something is wrong with you. Your mechanical pencil analogy was golden. People learn differently and at different paces, but the way the system is set up you can’t get behind. Being forced to try and learn at a faster face is a setup for disaster.

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