Making the words stand still.

Making the words stand still. – book reviews

Beryl Lieff Benderly

Making the Words Stand Still

Donald Lyman is truly a self-made man. The respected educator, doctorate holder, Phi Beta Kappan and author of the engaging and provocative Making the Words Stand Still (Houghton Mifflin, $16.95) was constructed, single-handedly and against overwhelming odds, by the indomitable will of a child. From his very first days in kindergarten, young Donald knew that “what I was expected to learn would not be easy.’ He couldn’t tell the letters apart. He couldn’t answer questions as did the other kids. He couldn’t even beat the drum in the rhythm band.

In retrospect, of course, the mature Lyman knows that he had (and still has) a Specific Learning Disability. Young Donald, however, had the benefit of ignorance (and freedom from labels), and didn’t know that fluent reading might be beyond a person of his neurological makeup. He merely knew that he would have to work like the very devil to succeed in school. And work he did, hour after hour, year after year, inventing private techniques that finally conquered the terrors of the written word, that let him not only keep up with his classmates but surpass most of them.

Then when he began his own teaching career, he gravitated naturally to the children like his former self. Over decades, he refined his hard-won tricks into a philosophy and methodology for teaching learning-disabled youngsters–who, he estimates, number 10 million to 15 million –to master written language.

Not surprisingly, his adult beliefs grew out of his youthful trials. What is called Specific Learning Disability is not a particular deficit, he argues, but a social definition imposed by a culture that demands literacy of everyone. Some children, however, possess the more direct, concrete intelligence that ably served human life in the millennia before all experience had to carry written labels. By concentrating on the strengths inherent in such youngsters, by exploiting their abilities to perceive vividly and to understand kinesthetically, Lyman has turned many apparently hopeless cases into capable students in regular schools.

The book struggles to capture a nonverbal condition in ordinary words, and for this reason the theoretical chapters come out windy, even hazy. But Lyman’s conviction that children and adults can overcome this socially crippling condition shines through the fog like a beacon. The deeply felt accounts of his own and his students’ triumphs and his detailed advice on the strategy and tactics of teaching will enlighten and inspire learning-disabled persons of all ages, and their parents and teachers, too,

COPYRIGHT 1986 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group