Editor’s Note: Terrence G. Harris is the author of the following guest blog post. A student at Columbia College Chicago, Terrence reflects on online learning through the eyes of his mother’s experience.
By: Terrence G. Harris
My mother, Dr. Delena King, grew up in Vicksburg, Miss., during an era in which people were blindsided by learning disabilities. Well meaning people—educators and family members—didn’t recognize the signs of her disability.
It wasn’t until her college years at Jackson State University that she finally received help. A professor noticed the symptoms of dyslexia, and encouraged her to get tested.
Looking back on those painful, early years, she said, “I felt as though I was dumb.” But nothing could have been further from the truth.
In December of 2012, my mother earned her doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership from Argosy University Online. She is 47 years young!
It was tough sledding. She credits the flexibility of online learning with helping her to balance demands of family and school.
She believes that her odyssey is worth sharing. And so do I.
Like so many others with dyslexia, my mother is smart. She just learns differently. She might have a tendency to transpose numbers or write sentences twice. But she has learned to overcome those challenges.
Even before she was diagnosed with this disorder in college, she recalls how her mother would stay up until 2 and 3 in the morning to help her with lessons.
“I thought I was dumb and I had heard it a lot,” she said, “but I had a strong mother.”
“The key for someone with a learning disability is coping skills,” she said. “We all learn to adapt. I had to learn to adapt.”
Cast aside the negatives. That’s another nugget of advice that she shares.
“You have to find out what works for you. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t let the word dumb or dummy deter you.”
“That’s the reason why I got my doctorate,” she added. “I can say, ‘Look where I’m from. A girl from Vicksburg, Mississippi, with a learning disability that she never knew she had, and got a doctorate degree. Who would have thought?’”
The National Center for Learning Disabilities describes dyslexia as a learning disorder that can hinder a person’s ability to easily read, write, and spell. People with this disorder have normal, or above normal, intelligence.
My mother already had earned two master’s degrees when she decided to pursue the doctorate. She was raising a son, and very much involved with church activities. But she still had a thirst for education.
Her sister, who was pursuing a degree online, suggested the online route.
“She (her sister) really enjoyed being online,” my mother said. “She thought it would be something good for me because I learn differently.”
To test the waters, my mother enrolled in one online class. She discovered that she could learn at her own pace, an advantage for a person with her learning disability.
(Is this the best route for other people with learning disabilities? Each case is different. My mother advises people to seek professional counsel about the best educational path for their circumstances.)
“I would find out what the assignment is for the week,” she explained about her study routine. “Then I could research whatever, get up from the computer, walk around and think. I could wash a load of clothes, I could cook and come back. I was in control of the class. The class wasn’t in control of me.”
While writing her dissertation, a phenomenological study on older HIV patients’ views of support groups, she preferred online and phone communication with her professor. That distance allowed for additional reflection time.
“There were some days he (advisor) made me so angry and for me to be in front him, would not have been nice,” she added.
But relief was in sight.
“It’s a process I would not go through again,” she said. “It took four to five years of my life. So once I finished, I didn’t want to see a book, hear about HIV, didn’t want to read a book, touch a book. Nothing.”
But, she had reached a lifelong goal.
A painful life challenge, however, soon interrupted another dream.
My mother was looking forward to commencement ceremonies in June. Unfortunately she received news about her father’s death.
Her father had been supportive of her dreams because he had dropped out of school in 7th grade.
My mother was the first in her family to graduate from college.
Unfortunately, my grandfather was buried on the same day in June that my mother would have participated in the commencement ceremony.
“It was a double loss,” she said. “That was the date that family and friends were going to show up and we were going to throw a party. It all had to be cancelled due to his death. I lost my father and lost my graduation.”
“You go to school four or five years and you look forward to graduation and it doesn’t happen,” she said. “So here I have a cap and gown that I will never wear. I don’t have pictures. It’s sad that he knew I got my doctorate but he didn’t get a chance to see the pictures, or (experience) the realization that I had it. Once you see the pictures, it’s real.”
Postscript: Although she didn’t “walk” in June, my mother plans to attend commencement ceremonies in Atlanta this November.
Her advice for aspiring college students (and others) with learning disabilities: Stay focused on your dreams.