Today I sat with my granddaughter while she did her 1st grade school work. As she correctly sounded out unfamiliar words, she smiled up at me with her adorable toothless grin that is in desperate need of two front teeth. As she continued to read, my mind drifted back to another 1st grader who would smile up at me as he slowly plodded along, sound by sound, struggling to read even the simplest of words. His labored reading was a scenario that continued from 1st into 2nd and even on into 3rd and 4th grades, yet his ever-present smile always exuded confidence that never wavered. He was oblivious to how delayed his reading skills were. He just kept plugging away with confidence that one day he would be reading through piles of books. Inside, however, I was acutely aware of just how severe his dyslexia was.
He is a young man now. He is currently occupying my thoughts because this week marks the end of his undergraduate education. On Saturday he will be graduating Summa Cum Laude and as a Distinguished Undergraduate Scholar with his Bachelor’s degrees in physics and math. If you could have told me back when his adorable face grinned up at me when he was 7, 8, and 9 that one day he would graduate from college never having earned a single college grade below an A, I am not sure whether I would have believed you or not.
He was a little paradox. While he struggled with reading, his math and problem solving skills constantly caught me off-guard. One day when he was six, we were baking cookies and he shared a discovery he had made. As we were spooning the cookie dough onto the cookie sheet, he told me that if we made 5 rows of 4 cookies there would be 20 cookies on the pan. I stopped mid-scoop and started paying more attention to what he was sharing. He went on to tell me that 6 rows of 3 window panes made 18 and 7 rows of 3 cars made 21. His precociousness in math was as dominant a force in his education as his struggles in reading.
His experience highlights one of the most precious gifts that homeschooling can provide–an individualized education that meets the needs of the child without any regard to institutionalized norms and pacing. When he was 10, I would read him the word problems in his algebra text. His math skills had rapidly advanced ahead of both “grade level standards” and his reading abilities. So, while he was completing algebra, he was still struggling with reading fairly simple chapter books. That unbalanced scenario continued until his reading skills finally started to match his grade level. Then, with equal rapidity as his math progression, he started functioning beyond grade level across all areas (except spelling….spelling is still his nemesis, even today.)
His academic progression was dictated by no constraints other than those of his own abilities. The fact that he had been working at a remedial level in elementary school did not dictate his future progression. When he was ready to accelerate and master skills like composition that had been severely impacted by his reading level, we were able to jump right in and move at whatever pace he was ready to handle. Consequently, even though he had struggled for all those years in learning how to read, by the time he graduated from high school, he had not only taken but also thrived in advanced courses in literature, philosophy, theology as well as 300 level courses in math and physics.
This Saturday a special red honors cap will adorn his curly-topped head. I easily envision his beaming grin as he walks across the stage to receive his diploma. As my thoughts whirl in flashes of his childhood, I am thankful for the blessing that homeschooling provided him. Snail’s pace or leaps and bounds, his education matched what he personally needed. It allowed him to confidently thrive and provided him the foundation for his future.
Next year, this young man, who struggled so much with reading when he was little, will be the first in our family to pursue a PhD. His future goals lie in the cosmos–theoretical cosmology, that is. Who knows where his grinning determination will take him? To infinity and beyond.