The inaugural Chapman University Dyslexia Summit not only sought to open eyes but to broaden minds about the “limitless opportunities” available to those who think like a dyslexic.
The 300 or so students, educators and others attending the daylong conference in Beckman Hall heard a range of speakers address the challenges and, yes, benefits of dyslexia. Dyslexics often become more adaptable and find solutions others missed, experts say.
“Be yourself, embrace your strengths, follow your brilliant ideas with a passion, and your opportunities will be limitless,” said Virgin Atlantic mogul Sir Richard Branson, who has dyslexia and spoke to attendees via a video that kicked off the summit.
Dyslexia is a general term for disorders involving struggles with processing language. Paleontologist Jack Horner displayed the signs of dyslexia as a child and was labeled a failure in school. Yet he became one of the world’s leading experts on dinosaurs, his work inspiring Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
A Dinosaur-Sized Welcome Awaits
Jack Horner, a groundbreaking paleontologist, MacArthur Grant recipient and senior adjunct scientist for the Smithsonian Institution, will join Chapman University as a Presidential Fellow, beginning this fall.
Horner, who inspired the Alan Grant character in Jurassic Park, credits his career success to “turning ideas upside down and re-evaluating them.”
“Virtually everything I do comes from challenging the current status quo,” he says.
Horner retires in June from his 33-year tenure as Regents Professor of Paleontology at Montana State University and curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.
“We are hiring Jack for his unconventional and extremely successful approach to creativity and learning,” said Daniele Struppa, Ph.D., chancellor and president-designate at Chapman. “It is his ingenuity and his sense of curiosity and wonder that he will bring to Chapman as we continue to re-think the meaning of education and how students learn.”
His creativity and findings in the world of paleontology drastically changed the field: Horner and his teams discovered the first evidence of parental care in dinosaurs. He was a leader in the now-widely-accepted theory that dinosaurs were warm-blooded social creatures.
At Chapman, Horner hopes to teach an honors class on thinking differently by revealing some of the students’ own preconceived ideas.
“I want them to learn how to ask questions differently than other people, and to evaluate answers more effectively,” he says.
“I dropped out of college seven times,” said Horner, who will join the Chapman faculty this fall as a Presidential Fellow.
Fumiko Hoeft, Ph.D., of the BrainLens neuroimaging lab at the University of California, San Francisco, presented new science that shows fundamental brain differences in dyslexics. She noted that those with dyslexia show strengths in creativity and reasoning.
Ben Foss, founder of the advocacy organization Headstrong Nation, recalled teachers labeling him “lazy,” and telling him to just apply himself and he’d be more successful. The author decided to “own” his dyslexia, developing a philosophy focused on what he can do rather than what he can’t.
Foss advocates for schools and universities to do away with standardized testing, which can stigmatize those with reading disabilities but who might be gifted in areas that can’t be quantified by a basic exam.
As the summit wound down, it became clear that the consideration of cognitive diversity will be ongoing at Chapman.
“The University is not just about the practical pursuit of providing physical accommodations for students,” said Jerry Price, Ph.D., vice chancellor and dean of students at Chapman. “It’s about a shift in our way of thinking, from a focus on minimizing our students’ deficits to maximizing their talents.”
Top image: Professor Richard Bausch, left, joins Chapman students Claire Bendig ’18, Tera Gaines ’19 and Christopher Matista ’17 for a panel discussion during the Dyslexia Summit.