Just give me three minutes. Just three. Click below and watch this video. Don’t worry what it is about, just click here. That’ll be two of the three minutes.
You were moved, weren’t you? Of course you were, because the kind of people who read our Think Tanks are empathetic, passionate, and generally smarter and better looking than the average person. Well, there is a good story behind this video. Our dyslexia expert, Alex Burke, just mailed me that the video was made after a “London Sperm Bank turned away a donor with dyslexia. It was found the bank had leaflets saying they would screen out dyslexia, ADHD, ASD, and dyspraxia.” Outraged, Kate Griggs started a campaign in the UK and the media got involved. Hooray for Kate! Hooray for Britain!
I will soon ask for the third minute of your time because we have a campaign too. It is similar to Kate’s and it all started while we were working on this issue of the Think Tanks. First, let me explain why.
A few days ago, one of the contributors, Dr. Kirika Kushiyama, sent us a newspaper article about the Japan National University Entrance Exam, the Senta Shiken*. (*Note, since then, most of the article has been removed.) It mentioned that some students were evicted from this year’s test for cheating. One of the “cheaters” was using a ruler to help her read the questions in the Japanese Language section.
As soon as we read that, we realized that this student might have been dyslexic. People with even mild dyslexia, especially in high pressure situations, find reading with a ruler helps keep the words from moving around. We accept that the student broke a clearly-written rule and had to be evicted, but we also wonder if this rule was made at a time when most people were unfamiliar with dyslexia and how common it is turning out to be. Whereas it was once thought that because of Japan’s visual orthography, Chinese characters (Kanji), less than one percent of Japanese have dyslexia, more recent studies have raised that number to 3-7% or 6-7%, surprisingly, when reading Kanji. For our purposes, let’s say 5%, which is still less than in English-speaking countries.
Now think about the impact of that no-ruler policy. About 600,000 students take this test every year. That means up to 30,000 test takers who might benefit from using a ruler are not allowed to. Granted they could apply submit a medical certificate beforehand to request a somewhat generous accommodation, but how many Japanese kids would even try? Considering the public lack of awareness about dyslexia in Japan, and the social stigma attached, I suspect very few would. Worse, researchers at Gft NOP and the International Dyslexia Association believe that most people who have dyslexia don’t even know it. They think all people read that way!
In addition to that, dyslexia is not binary: it lives on a continuum. There are mild forms and if we include those with “visual stress” exacerbated by a high-anxiety test, the number might go up to 20% (Singleton & Trotter, 2010).
Whatever the case, anyone who has a reading impairment and who must compete with someone who doesn’t is at a disadvantage. Rules like the one we are trying to change make it even less of a level playing field. In this all-important test, the Senta Shiken, that sets the lives of millions, even just one point higher or lower makes a big difference. So, banning rulers is just one more of those discriminatory barriers in education that makes dyslexics “feel stupid,” as Richard Branson told us in the video linked to the first page.
So that’s it. We are tired of being part of a system that damages our youth. I’m tired of it. It makes me uneasy thinking about how many Japanese Einsteins, Lennons, Jobses, Brandons, Disneys, Picassos, and Speilbergs I might have further disheartened just because…I…did…not…know.
So now it is our turn. We are educators. We are brain experts. We have the right to ask the testing board to get rid of this silly rule: that rulers are not allowed in the reading sections unless you apply beforehand with a medical certificate. It’s time for a campaign. And that is exactly what we are doing. As politely as possible, acknowledging that the student this year broke a rule, acknowledging that the examination board has experts advising them on test-takers with disabilities, recognizing the weight of their responsibilities, we are asking them to change this policy for the new test that they are making for next year, one that will replace the current Senta Shiken. That’s where the third minute we are asking for comes in. We would like you to take a minute to add your name to our Google Doc request (delet. It will help if you add some credentials under your name, even if just “professor,” “educator concerned about dyslexia,” or “parent of dyslexic.”
Once we collect enough names (and soften the request a little), we will send this document to the National Center for University Entrance Examinations. We might later decide to show our request to individual colleges which have similar policies, or even to the press, but in that case we will not include your name without your permission.
Thank you. We hope to get some big names to sign, too. I wrote people I think are connected to Richard Branson, Kiera Knightly, and Kate Griggs, and Kirika is contacting some Japanese experts.
We can do this, folks! “You mean change government policy? Good luck.”
The truth is, with luck, they will just be the small fish. What we are really want to do is to get this message to others: mothers, teachers, and exam committee members, and make everyone more aware. If some famous people really do add their names, maybe we can get something in the media like Kate Griggs did. Just maybe. But even if we do not achieve any of these goals, something has happened to us – to me, to Kirika, maybe to you – and that is enough.
So, finally, here is the sperm bank video again, followed by Kate Griggs herself in a TED Talk. You might find an observation about discriminatory tests by Fernette Eide of the UK’s Dyslexic Advantage interesting, too. She was one of the first people to sign our request. Finally, a couple key people in our campaign, Pauline Bunce and Alex Burke, will be contributing articles on dyslexia and on biscriptal readers in future Think Tanks.