My third grade teacher recommended I attend the gymnasium, a higher school, instead of going on to the fourth grade. My father, however, would not accept her opinion. He thought that he was a better judge of my qualifications, so he decided to test me.
He picked a book from the shelf, opened a page to Socrates and told me to read out loud. I did my best to pronounce the words that I didn’t know, but I stumbled. That was not good enough for him. He wanted me to read the text fluently. He gave me five minutes to read it to myself before I had to read out loud again, for him. He said a person who is privileged to attend the gymnasium must read perfectly.
He reached for a bamboo stick, tapping it on his shoes as a warning to me. After five minutes, which he timed by watching the clock, he asked me to read out loud again.
Everything went well until I stumbled a little over the first word in the second paragraph. Without warning, he hit me over the head with the bamboo stick. “Continue,” he growled in a stern voice. I tried. The words were complicated. I stumbled again, and the stick came down sharply on my head. And so it went through the first half of the page. Tears flowed down my cheeks and I trembled with fear. I just couldn’t go on.
“Useless,” he said, “you are too stupid to read. You don’t deserve the privilege of attending gymnasium. Your place should be given to an intelligent child.”
From that day on I couldn’t read aloud. I still can’t. In the fourth grade I fell apart anytime I had to read. I started misspelling words, left off the endings or sometimes stumbled when reading words I had seen many times. Writing and reading became torture to me because I was afraid to make a single mistake. My father’s harsh criticism followed me everywhere and left me completely disabled.
Even as a mature adult I wasn’t able to shake the trauma or really understand it. Years later while taking a college journalism class I had to read out loud in front of the class. I knew I couldn’t read aloud, because I started stuttering after the first few lines. Then I stumbled over one word in the second paragraph. I could feel my eyes become unfocused and the words seemed to jump around. At the same moment I remembered the class was being broadcast on TV. The lines crisscrossed each other and I was unable to find the next word. Embarrassed, I left the classroom.
For the first time I really understood where dyslexia came from and how it disabled me. The terrible memories of my father’s testing came back, and suddenly, I had the answer to why I was always afraid to read in front of other people. It was also clear why I misspell words when I’m pressured. Fear disabled me then, and fear still disables me now.