The last time I was in person with a significant number of DLD members was the CEC convention held in Portland, Oregon in early February 2020. During the convention I had the pleasure of attending numerous sessions led by DLD members and others on how to ensure individuals with LD receive the evidence-based education and services they deserve. I had a great time. Heck, I even got my picture taken with the Oregon State mascot- Benny Beaver- who made an appearance in my hotel lobby for some event unrelated to our conference. He is quite a bit taller than the beavers we have in Virginia and his head doesn’t seem to be of proportional size to his body, but nonetheless I was happy to meet him and have a picture snapped—you don’t get to see that picture because I can’t find it! However, in the picture here, I am with my colleague, John Lloyd, sitting at the CEC booth where we remained for a few hours to see if folks had any questions for us regarding our roles as editors of Exceptional Children. We didn’t get many ‘formal’ questions, but lots of folks came by to say hi and introduce themselves. It was great to see old friends and meet new ones.
I have a friend who is a big Sci-Fi fan and he talks about the kinship and exhilaration he feels when he attends Star Trek conventions. It is invigorating, he says, to get together with people who share the same passion. I am no ‘Trekkie’ but I imagine that many of us feel similarly when we have the opportunity to get together with a large group of special education professionals like we did in Portland. I know I sure feel that way- affirmation, kinship, intellectual engagement, constructive debate, and ultimately renewal of my commitment to our field. I leave thinking these are my people and we do important work. I miss times like that and seeing you all in person, not on Zoom. I hate Zoom!
But wow, thinking back now, it sure was crowded! People jammed into every nook and cranny of the convention hall, lots of loud talk, laughter, hugs and pats on the back. Things have changed, we all know that, but I am not sure we have taken the time to reflect how dramatically so. We have been too busy completely re-inventing all we do both professionally and personally. I am so incredibly proud of special educators and related personnel who are putting in 15-hour days to prep for, and teach, students with LD and others. Some are providing instruction all online and others in dramatically modified classroom settings. Many are teaching fulltime and parenting fulltime. Some are risking their own lives or those of their family members because they have pre-existing conditions and continue to serve our students in person. This is not hyperbolism. I have a former preservice student, now special educator, who is living apart from his wife because she has cancer, and he needs to continue to teach in person and doesn’t want to expose her to the Covid-19 virus. And of course, the virus is not all we are facing at this time. The world, the United States, the school system, our profession, and each of us individually have a lot on our plates to put it mildly.
So what can we, as the Division for Learning Disabilities, and me privileged enough to be the 2021 president, do in times like these? I have been procrastinating writing this letter for weeks because to be honest, what I can think of doesn’t feel like it rises to the occasion nor does it meet what special education professionals and individuals with learning disabilities deserve.
In his book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder, provides concrete suggestions on ways to proactively approach times like these. One of his suggestions, I believe, is particularly salient to us.
“Defend institutions. It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. So choose an institution you care about and take its side.” (https://scholars.org/contribution/twenty-lessons-fighting-tyranny-twentieth-century)
There have been many hard-fought victories won for individuals with disabilities over the years, with PL 94-142 coming first to my mind. In turn there are institutions from local public schools to national organizations like CEC and DLD that work to ensure those with disabilities receive the services they are entitled to under the law. We must protect these institutions, and the Laws that undergird their efforts. Now this doesn’t mean we give them a pass when they do not sufficiently serve special education professionals and their students, but it does mean we are ardent supporters of their existence. We need them and the people who encompass these institutions (i.e., each other!) if we ever hope to fulfill our commitment to individuals with LD. We are here to serve, because we know the promise individuals with LD hold to make profound contributions to society. Institutions allow us to ban together and achieve our mission. Certainly as part of our mission, these time call upon us to critically reflect on how best to ensure equity across those we collaborate with and those we serve.
So that is my promise to you. This year and going forward, I will work to preserve and enhance our institution, DLD, in order to ensure individuals with LD, dyslexia and other disabilities receive the education they deserve. I invite each of you to also become a defender and advocate of DLD. You can do so by joining one of our committees, taking on a special assignment for the board or simply being a member and attending our events, and accessing resources on our website and in our journal- Learning Disabilities Research and Practice. Although we are living in a new reality, we still have a lot planned for this year, great DLD sessions at CEC Live, plans for our second DLD@Night event at the Teacher Education Division Conference, development of new TeachingLD.org resources and much more. Time to get to work!
On a lighter note, I hope we can get together in person soon. I miss my version of a Star Trek convention and seeing you in person. Certainly (??), come CEC 2022, we will be in a position to yet again crowd into a convention hall. We will be in Orlando, home of the University of Central Florida. Perhaps all of us can crowd in and get a picture together with their mascot – Knightro. Just like Benny Beaver, he has a head outsized for his body too. I promise I won’t misplace the picture this time.
Bill Therrien, DLD President 2021