Dyslexia Environmental Lawyer David Schoenbrod

Dyslexia Environmental Lawyer David Schoenbrod

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What I aim to tell you about at the beginning is what happened when I accepted the invitation to talk 2 years ago, which was that I couldn’t get to sleep that night. And I wondered why? When I got out of the bed the next morning, I knew why. The problem was that I knew that talking to this group would probably bring up some memory that was very painful, but I knew not of what. To try to recover that memory, I opened a box that my mother had filled with things from my grade school days. I looked there because when I finished 3rd grade, my parents were told that they were going to hold me back from going to 4th grade because I couldn’t read very well. My mother convinced them that she would tutor me over that summer, and on that basis, they let me go on to 4th grade. So, at the end of fourth grade, this is the report card that I found in that box, okay? What really bothered me about this was the word carelessness, that I was “careless”, a charge, as you know that is often leveled against Dyslexics that are undiagnosed. The charge really confused me because I thought I was trying hard. And it made me feel ashamed, and the reason it made me feel ashamed is my parents were children of the depression. They really were challenging themselves economically to buy a house in this district that had really wonderful schools. They were really extending themselves so that I and my sisters would really have a chance, and here was the teacher saying, basically, I was squandering the opportunity my parents were sacrificing so much to give me. I felt awful. After this report card came out, one of the teachers, I’m not sure which teacher, suggested to my parents that they really ought to give me some special attention. Two months after this report card my parents took me on a trip to Canada. We left behind–this was uncharacteristic of my parents, my two sisters, my two younger sisters, one of whom is there,Nancy… stand up for a second — Dr. Nancy Oskow-Schoenbrod, who is a doctor in Special Education. [applause] The trip we took was from Chicago where we lived, up along in through here, through Quebec, across the river, up the Saint Lawrence, the tip of the Saint Lawrence, and around the Gaspe Peninsula around here and then back down home. I was just along for the ride. But I came to understand as the trip progressed, that we were actually on a route, and there was this thing called a map my parents had, and they showed me the route we were on, this route going up to Canada and back. And I understood– kind of had the idea– that we were following this route that was on the map. Then, along the way, I started watching the compass on the dashboard of our 1952 vehicle. This is not the actual compass, but this is the photograph I found on the web of exactly how that compass looked. And there was a point on the ride, it was beyond Quebec, I could tell you exactly what the place looked like. It was on the right bank of the river. I could give you a pretty accurate description of what that place looked like. I began, with the aide of that compass, to understand where we were on the route, and how the orientation of the car fit in to this overall picture. I was seeing the Big Picture, and my place in it.———- That felt good! A few minutes after we returned, I celebrated that good feeling by doing a watercolor. I took art classes then. That was a nice thing my parents did for me, was to put me into art classes. The painting was not of a particular place. It was of the picture in my mind of the place. What it was, the picture in my head. Look at the shape up here at the top. Look at the shape of the Gaspe Peninsula. It’s the same shape. What was in my head was the shape of the Gaspe Peninsula that we drove around. See these rocks here on the picture? Well, if you actually look at a detailed map of Canada, on the map…is these rocks. This is called the Perce Rock or something like that. Our dad was quite pleased by the painting, and he had it framed, and he hung it up in our house, and that really tickled me. About a half year later, my Dad said, “Let’s go to the Art Show.” It was down the road in a nearby town. The art show was a really big deal in our area, because hundreds of artists from around the Chicago area would bring their pictures, and have them hung. Here are the judges for the art contest, and these four or five hundred adults who had entered pictures in the contest. The winners were going to be invited to a cocktail party at a big art gallery, and given prizes, and so on and so forth. I was surprised to see that my picture was hung there. I didn’t know how it got there. The judges were really surprised when my picture was one they picked out as a winner! Now, I don’t regard this picture as a work of art. I regard it as a symptom of Dyslexia, and in this case, a positive symptom of Dyslexia, the ability to see the Big Picture. And it’s a symbol, also, of the love and encouragement that my parents gave me.>From that encouragement, I had a certain boldness about me, I think. So, for example, when it came time to do Geometry in my sophomore year, and we learned how to use a compass, and a straight edge to trisect a line, and then the teacher said, “But you can’t trisect a triangle…”, I said to my teacher after class, well I can do that! And his response was wonderful and indicative of just how wonderful our teachers were. He said, “That’s just great. As soon as you get it done, I will make sure that you graduate from high school immediately.” [laughter] So I went home, and I worked with my straight edge and my compass, and you know what I figured out? I figured out why you can’t trisect a triangle, and that was a really good insight. I felt good about that. To this day, I feel grateful for that teacher for treating me this way. We really had wonderful teachers in grade school and high school, with one exception. And I just have to mention this. So, my parents come home from parent/teacher day in my junior year of high school, and I come up to them, and I can tell you Nancy, exactly where this was in the house, and they kind of look crestfallen. I say, how was it, and my Dad gulps and says, “Well, your English teacher says you are literate in no languages. What do you make of that?” Well, anyway, because of really good grades in math and science, I got into Yale. On the first day we were there, they gave the entire class a reading test. Then, shortly after that, I get a phone call or whatever it was, saying ,”Come to see your academic advisor.” The academic advisor says, “You know you signed up for some pretty tough courses for first year. You’ve signed up for Organic Chemistry, blah, blah, blah…” and he said, “according to this reading test, you’re going to have trouble graduating.” So I dropped that hard stuff, you know, and so on. But, I worked at the reading, and I graduated in 3 years. I got a Marshall Scholarship, took me to Oxford. I got a graduate degree from Oxford. It was many, many decades later that I first heard the word Dyslexia. It was only 6 years ago, when I was 67 years old, that I was diagnosed as Dyslexic. After putting this story together, I understood what kept me up that night. I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed of resenting my mothers efforts to tutor me after 3rd grade. I remember sitting in the back of that car on a trip to California, and my mother trying to get me to read, and I hated it! And I didn’t like her for it. I felt ashamed of resenting my father for entering that picture in the Art exhibition. I thought he did it to show off, how clever he was. He did it to encourage me. I learned only years after he died that he graduated from high school after his class. He was held back. I just didn’t know that. The person who told me about that, Cousin Shirley, said that he had a learning disability. But I never knew of that. I would have loved to be able to talk about that with him, but it was just all hidden. I wish most of all that I could have thanked my parents for helping me with this problem. What makes it particularly poignant has to do with the fate of that picture. I don’t know where it went, but, anyway…we don’t need it. My mother had it hung in her apartment in her old age. After she died, we split up the things my mother had, and I took that picture. What I did with it was I put it in the crawl space of the attack of our house. Well, after that sleepless night, I took the picture out and hung it in a place of honor in the living room. To honor my parents, and to honor the little guy who saw the big picture. Now, Dyslexia has benefited my far more than it has hurt me. I still see the big picture, although I earn my living painting with words rather than with paint. I’m still bold. As a young litigator, I took on the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the petroleum industry, to force them to take lead out of gasoline. Upon leaving the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is where I was an environmental litigator, one of my colleagues wrote this about me, “He has a global perspective, it’s like he’s seeing a big chess game, managing all the pieces, trying to get them all in place.” As I’ve gone along, I’ve tried to champion bolder causes…shyness is not my problem. However, I haven’t lost my interest in art, but, as a teen-ager, I shifted from an interest in painting to and interest in sculpting, and now I work with my partner, Jan Selby there, to sculpt the landscape and the land we own. We are very proud of what we’ve accomplished. We took basically what was a hovel and a scrappy piece of land, and made something beautiful. I think our ability to do that, imagine what could be, comes out of Dyslexia. So, yes, Dyslexia is an advantage, but it comes at a price. [applause] Subtitles by the Amara.org community

One thought on “Dyslexia Environmental Lawyer David Schoenbrod

  • Junk From Work Post author

    This really speaks to me. I am starting to come to terms with my "disability" he touches on alot of points. I have countless stories from my childhood where I would spend hours attempting to do school work the previous night only to get frustrated and quit. I would then go to school and get called lazy. you guys are doing important work

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