My Story (Originally Posted on IDA 2009)
By Emerson Dickman, JD
As my last article as President, I have decided to do something I have difficulty doing! That is telling my story. I feel like I have just agreed to stand up in group therapy and expose my innermost fears. Well in a way I am doing just that. Enough procrastinating – jump right in.
I had difficulty learning to read and was left back in the first grade. On the first day of my second year in 1st grade the classroom was set up to comfort the children coming from kindergarten; not for the child who had almost made it to the door of 2nd grade. Refusing to skip around the outside of the classroom (a kindergarten activity) resulted in the teacher sending me back to kindergarten to “learn how to skip.” Insult being added to injury is not an unusual experience for children with LD.
Throughout elementary school I excelled at ensuring that the mean on the school’s bell curve remained low enough so that the parents of other children could brag about their achievement. I was never fully appreciated in this regard.
Once at a party, a year or two ago, I was asked, by an individual to whom I had been introduced that coincidently attended the same grammar school, “What teachers did you have?” I could only remember one whose name had come to my attention for various reasons over the years. Upon naming that teacher, her unfiltered response was, “Oh, you were with the slow group.” My immediate reaction was amazement that she not only remembered the names of her teachers, but the names of mine as well. Did I say that I also have a terrible memory? Only secondarily did I realize that the insensitivity of her remark. In the past I might have cared.
In 7th grade we moved to a new town. Not knowing any better I was assigned to Mr. Tanenbaum, the toughest teacher in the school who happened to teach Science. He had a demerit system, he had graphs, charts, experiments; getting a B in his class was said to be a major accomplishment. I had Mr. Tanenbaum for 2 years and got As and A+s most of the time. What I learned in that science class carried me in science courses through my 2nd year in college and, more importantly, gave me confidence that I would not always struggle to be less than average in everything.
Bad advice sent me to a challenging university where I attempted 18 ½ credits in the first semester, joined ROTC, and pledged for a fraternity on a party campus. Most of the other students were prepared having apparently majored in party and study skills in fancy prep schools. Six nights a week studying until three in the morning and I flunked out anyway. At C.W. Post College of Long Island University, my new college, I went to every class, sat in front, took notes, and in my fourth year took a total of 56 credits, to make up for flunking the first year, with an average between an A and B. Although, due to my unique memory, I have never learned the entire times table, my degree was in Industrial Engineering. Conceptual math was not a problem. Of course I had a secret that I will pass on to those who truly want to beat this thing; first date then marry someone who can spell!
Fast forward – get job with New York Bell Telephone, get married, three years in the army, fatherhood then go to law school. Are you crazy, you are a lousy reader, how can you go to law school? The short answer is that the stars were aligned and I got into a state school (GI Bill) with a great reputation that used a Socratic method to teach. At Rutgers remembering the exact cite, name of the judge, and page number was not important. Knowing what a case stood for and being able to argue all points of view was valued. And I went to every class, sat in front, and took notes! What I had learned about learning is that reading the book was helpful, reading my notes was important, and reading the teacher was essential.
I have been an attorney now for 37 years, 4 kids, 4 grandkids, and a wife who helped me write book reports when she was 15 and I was 17 and can still spell.
As you might imagine there is a lot more to the story; there are many why, what, when, and how questions that may cause Georgette and me to question our sanity from time to time, but somehow things worked out and being privileged to have dedicated our careers to helping children with special needs is the icing and the candles on the cake.
Thank you for letting me be President of IDA for these past three years. I will always cherish the friends I have made and the feeling of achievement and meaning that IDA has given me.