Author Johnathan Mooney Speaks on Social Change

Kiera Lindner, Staff Writer

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Johnathan Mooney, a social change advocate, speaker, and writer who focuses particularly on learning differences, gave a talk on Wednesday evening, September 19th in Alumni Hall. He was invited by the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee at the suggestion of Patty Klug from Student Accessibility Services. Mooney, who due to dyslexia did not learn to read until he was twelve, published his first book about learning differences, “Learning Outside the Lines”, as an undergraduate at Brown University. He has since published “The Short Bus”, contributed to The Brown Reader collection, won numerous awards and had his work featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, and many other sources.

Prior to his 7 PM talk, a group of students were able to meet with Jonathan Mooney and share a meal. Among the topics discussed were advocating for loved ones with learning differences, identifying and solving the primary problems in education’s approach to learning differences, and designing strengths-based education. Mooney was passionate, authentic, and showed genuine interest in all students at the meal.

At his talk in a packed BAC A100, Jonathan Mooney used his experiences as someone whose primary struggles were due to his learning differences but to the education system’s misguided approach to differences and ingrained preference for “normal” minds and bodies to explain that “differences in body and mind are part of the continuum of human diversity,” we can create environments that truly celebrate everyone and allow everyone to succeed. He emphasized that our current approach to learning differences and so-called special needs “put the problem in the person” rather than the system, devaluing different brains and bodies and ignoring the many strengths that exist in addition to the challenges of differences.  People, he said, are not the problem: the contexts surrounding people are the problem.

Our institutions and culture, Mooney explained, value some brains and bodies over others, and conflate a narrow band of intelligence — standard school-type reading-and-writing intelligence — with overall intelligence. People who fall outside this mold don’t need to change themselves, they need to have access to environments and resources that support them and their unique strengths. Universal design of environments, recognizing and eliminating ingrained institutional and cultural biases against different bodies and minds, and celebrating strengths were the main solutions Mooney suggested for improving our current world. He challenged the audience members to be ambassadors who find the good in everyone they encounter.

“Don’t fix what’s ‘wrong’ with a person, enhance what’s right,” said Mooney. “Every human being’s got something ‘right’ with them.”