Transcript: Jonathan Mooney, "The Short Bus - A Journey Beyond Normal", Aug 29 2007
Jonathan Mooney is the author of a book called, "The Short Bus - A Journey Beyond Normal". He is dyslexic and ADD, diagnosed in 4th grade, dropped out of school for a year in 6th grade. He was told that he'd flip burgers and end up in jail by a high school guidance counselor, yet graduated from Brown University with an honors degree in English Literature and became an activist in the field of learning diversity.
Thom Hartmann interviews Jonathan Mooney, 29 August 2007
[Thom]: Jonathan Mooney is with us. He's the author of a book called, "The Short Bus - A Journey Beyond Normal". Jonathan Mooney, welcome to the program.
[Jonathan]: Thom, thanks for having me. I'm a big fan.
[Thom]: Well, thank you. You visited more than a dozen people who had been diagnosed with a whole variety of things that all had the word disability attached to them, from Attention Deficit Disorder to dyslexia to autism to Down's Syndrome, and you tell some fascinating stories in this book. First of all, the big picture, the frame. You want to just riff off that for a second?
[Jonathan]: Yeah, well, first and foremost, the story starts with myself. Got to be honest with you, Thom, I'm dyslexic, I'm ADD, diagnosed in 4th grade, dropped out of school for a year in 6th grade, was told that I'd flip burgers from a high school guidance counselor, was told that I would end up in jail by the same guidance counselor. I shocked those sceptics by graduating from Brown University with an honors degree in English Literature, by becoming an activist in the field of learning diversity. So first and foremost the book is that story, you know, that journey from a kid who had a plan for suicide at 12 years old, to a young man that celebrated his differences.
Beyond that, the book is a cross country journey. It's 35,000 miles, 4 months in a converted short school bus; the kind that takes kids to special education, where I explore the myth of normalcy by telling other peoples' stories.
[Thom]: Yeah. For example, Mooney, in Austin, Texas. Excuse me, Kent in Austin, Texas. You're Mooney, Jonathan Mooney.
[Jonathan]: Thank you for reminding me, I forget sometimes myself
[Thom]: Yeah, there you go, I'm sorry. Kent, who you met in Austin, Texas.
[Jonathan]: Beautiful story, you know, and in many respects inspired by some of your work on ADD, to be honest with you. Kent Roberts is a young man labeled ADD, he went to Brown University with me, and his story and his experience is really an insight into the paradox of ADD; that sometimes our greatest strengths come hand in hand with our greatest weaknesses. On one hand, Kent Roberts almost failed out of Brown University. He had the attention span of the gnat, literally, you know. Couldn't turn his homework in, etc., etc. But on the other hand, Kent Roberts performed 24 hours of straight stand up Comedy while at Brown University. Where's the deficit of attention in that act, you know? Kent Roberts is an individual who celebrates that paradox about himself; very inspiring individual for me.
[Thom]: Yeah. Yeah, it's a great story. And down in the deep south, there's Butch.
[Jonathan]: Butch Anthony, dyslexic, didn't learn how to read until he was in his teenage years, was told that he was stupid, was actually labeled mentally retarded for a time, but yet Butch was an artist who is a self-taught architect, has such a highly developed visual sense that he found the first dinosaur bone ever in the state of Alabama. A guy who couldn't read, literally, couldn't write, went on a full ride paleontology scholarship to Auburn. You know, these are the type of stories that force us to question the idea of a normal cognition, or a normal neurological structure. These are the types of stories that force us to question the idea that somehow people with dyslexia have a problem, or people with ADD have a deficit or disorder, and they are the type of stories that force us to understand the reality of cognitive diversity.
[Thom]: Yeah, and perhaps most importantly, at least, you know, for a political talk show, force us to examine the question of whether or not we should be creating social institutions like our public education system that really is designed to teach in only one way to only one type of intelligence to only one type of learning style, and that labels everybody who doesn't fit into that neat little assembly line as somehow broken.
[Jonathan]: As less than, you know, as defective. And not only challenge the structure of public institutions, but understand the political power dynamics that are underneath that. You know, the type of intelligence that we've defined as the normal intelligence; logical linguistical intelligence, happens to be one narrow way to be smart. It happens to be the way that one group of people in power define intelligence, and it marginalizes minorities, it marginalizes people of low income. And I'll tell you, some of the smartest people I've met in my life, you know, they don't read well, but they can rebuild that car engine from scratch, right?
[Thom]: Yeah, exactly.
[Jonathan]: Some of the stupidest people I've met in my life have had PhDs, you know? But yet in school, if you don't fit that definition of intelligence, you get that message that you're less than. You get that message that somehow you're broken. And so many young people believe that. You know, so many young people buy into that, and I think it's a tragedy.
[Thom]: Yeah. Yeah, and a remarkable piece of work you've done here Jonathan, Jonathan Mooney, the web site jonathanmooney.com, the book, "The Short Bus - A Journey Beyond Normal", and Jonathan, thanks for sharing with us.
[Jonathan]: Thanks so much for having me on your program, Thom.
[Thom]: Thanks for coming on.