An eye opening and sad moment for me in 2019 was when someone I considered a friend publicly called me “transphobic” for questioning the disproportionate media coverage of the rights of transgender students as compared to the rights of students with dyslexia.
I stand by my question and reject the charge of transphobia.
All that garners clicks is gold and transgender issues appear to drive more traffic than our failure to teach two thirds of our children to read. A quick google search reveals just over 23 million search results for “transgender students” and over 6.5 million results for “transgender student rights.” The exact same google search for “dyslexia” shows just over 7.5 million search results and 274,000 results for “rights of students with dyslexia”, 262,000 for “dyslexia rights” and 204,000 for “dyslexia rights in school.”
But despite the ever increasing pressure and human tendency to turn complex issues into either/or scenarios, we will never serve children well if we don’t commit to seeing the struggles they face through a lens of both/and. Children who are transgender deserve our attention; and so do the millions of children who attend school every day and are never taught to read.
Stories about trans rights in schools—bathroom access, locker room access, preferred pronouns—are far more prevalent than stories about the failure of wealthy and poor communities alike to provide all struggling readers with the instruction they need and, if classified special education students, are entitled to under federal law. Perhaps this disproportionality of coverage would make sense if the percentage of trans students was higher—or even commensurate—with the percentage of students with dyslexia. But the numbers aren’t even close.
Less than 1 percent of Americans students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade identify as transgender. According to the CDC, that number increases to 2 percent when looking only at high school aged students. We know that somewhere between 5 to 10 percent of students struggle enough with reading to warrant a diagnosis of dyslexia (and approximately 20 percent have difficulty decoding words.) Of the students who receive special education services, 70-80 percent have deficits in reading. These greater numbers do not make dyslexic students more deserving of fair treatment in school—but they do make a strong case for there to be at least as much coverage by media outlets of why the majority of American children fail to meet standards in reading and writing.
All of us who work in the opinion business get called ugly and unwarranted names and sadly, sometimes it comes from people we once considered friends. But if we are committed to the truth and the dignity of all children, we can’t allow ourselves to be bullied or shamed into staying quiet or shying away from asking the hard and unpopular questions that are on our minds.