Shame: The Dark Heart of Reading Difficulties

“They feel like they’re failures; they tell us that. Lousy reading produces a perception of stupidity and dumbness to peers and clearly to the youngster who is struggling. That is the shame.” – Dr. G. Reid Lyon

Note: Click on any word on this page to experience the next evolutionary step in technology supported reading.

Building on ‘CHILD’S FAULT‘ from ‘Causes and Contributing Factors‘, this module’s first segment provides the starting point for appreciating the “SHAME” that struggling readers experience. Next, “The Power of Shame” discusses shame’s painful life-long and often life-distorting effects. The next three segments explore the “Public Shame” of the classroom; the “Fear of Shame” felt by children as they anticipate being asked to read out loud in classrooms, and how both drive the “Secret Shame” that causes children to hide their reading difficulties from parents, teachers, and peers. “Emotionally Learning Disabling” and “Avoidance” build on the previous segments and show how powerfully behavior-determining and learning-disabling shame avoidance can be. Finally, “Cognitively Learning Disabling” begins our discussion of the ‘downward spiral of shame’ (another future module) and describes how shame disrupts, distracts, and chokes the cognitive processing that is necessary for learning to read in the first place.

 

Dr. Maryanne Wolf: You know I haven’t thought in these terms. But as you say them there is no question that’s our enemy. Shame. 

Dr. Donald Nathanson: “Like most scholars, until awakened by the “Children of the Code” project, I took reading as much for granted as eating and drinking. Very few of us have paid sufficient attention to the specific emotions triggered in children as they begin to read.  Yet any impediment to mastery of the confusing code that connects spoken and written English must trigger shame, the emotion that stops all useful thought. So painful does shame become in the public arena of the schoolroom that our children swiftly divide into two streams and two futures purely on the basis of their response to the shame that accompanies the struggle to learn our written language.