An Education Transformation: How technology transformed a bedwetter into a superhero

I’ve wanted to tell this story for a very long time – a small chapter of a larger story of what motivates and drives me as an educator and a researcher. It starts with small intimate details of my childhood and ends with a somewhat grand inspirational note.

Intimate Details

From the beginning I knew something was very wrong with my understanding of language. At an early age, like most toddlers, I recognized that one plus one does in fact equal two. My physical world made sense. It was logical. I loved taking things apart and putting them back together. I truly enjoyed figuring out how things worked. I was very good at understanding the physical world – understanding the mechanics of things. But when it came to language, more specifically written language, something was very wrong, something was off. I didn’t know it then, but I had a learning disability. That is, groups of neurons did not make particular connections – also – environmental factors intensified and compounded the problem. Because of this I had a hard time relating to people. So, I withdrew.

When I emerged I was a delinquent – lost – but most disturbingly, I was virtually illiterate.

There are many factors that contributed to my difficulties with natural and written language. I now believe these difficulties emerged via Nature via Nurture1. That is, (1) genetically2 I knew there was some off and (2) I also knew in crucial developmental years I was not nurtured the way all kids should be3. In regards to the first, I have been tested many times and never fell into the normal percentile. In regards to the second, l will let you be the judge and offer this post, a treatment of my childhood.

As I make my early childhood less ambiguous, I ask you to bear with me, for it is slightly sad, somewhat entertaining, yet completely sincere.

My biological father, a charming smooth-talking illegal immigrant from Greece, was a helping hand in my grandfather’s restaurant and wooed my mother when she was nineteen. They ran away together and in a span of 5 years they had 4 kids and were constantly on the run both in the US and in Canada. The most crucial years of my early childhood development lay within this tumultuous environment.

My family’s life on the run4 finally ended when the Greek was deported from the US5, and in the wake of his deportation my mother made a call to her parents telling them of her whereabouts and that she was now a mother of four.

It is clear to me now, during those early years of development, negative environmental factors contributed greatly to my educational and emotional issues.

Shortly after moving back to Montreal, my mother married Jacob Lazerman, a New York City police officer, and shortly after that we moved back to the US. I lived and spent most of my adolescence in an area of the Bronx called Co-op City (one of the largest cooperative housing developments in the world).

It was P.S. 160 Walt Disney School where I believe my formal education first failed me.

Those were crazy times, literally. For starters, my mother was severely bipolar and institutionalized. My late stepfather, the cop, badge number 9481, worked in Harlem in the 60’s & 70’s6, and it is generally accepted that the 1970s were the worst period in Harlem’s history.

I am not sure if I completely forgive him for never being around and for his heavy hand when he was, but now I just see him as a product of those harsh times.

To sum up the beliefs and attitude of this man I present this phrase:

“Children should be seen and not heard.”

Sadly I took these words to heart.

So, I withdrew.

The memories I had of the Greek slowly faded and was distorted with time. As a child I remember thinking and telling stories of my being kidnapped by a Greek man. It was only later, as a teen, that my parents told me the man who I had been living with, and the man I was calling father for all those years, was not my biological father. Slowly I realized the memories of the Greek were memories of my biological father.

Two fathers – zero mentors.

I withdrew.

My being a bed wetter, well into my early teens, should have been an indication to any attentive parent that there was something wrong. Evidently, my parents were not attentive. I’m not sure if Ralph Wiggum7 is a bed wetter, but I would not be surprised if he is. Sadly, if I had to choose a fictional character that best represented my childhood it would be Ralph. Ralph is bizarre, an oddball, awkwardly spontaneous, yet sometimes surprisingly profound.

By now, some of you are wondering, what is the value of this self-deprecation. Perhaps some of the value lies in its humour, as I’m sure Sarah Silverman8 would agree. Mostly, however, because I would like all of the Ralph Wiggums out there, and the educators trying to educate the Ralphs, to know and believe there is hope. For, my achievements in other domains, particularly in design, are quite remarkable and are dramatically contrasted by my shortcomings with language.

My motto:

If I can transform myself so can you.

If I can succeed so can you.

As a student, both in the US and Canada, I lost count of the number of times I technically failed a grade. I say technically, because after the second time I was either pushed up, because of my age, or I switched schools just to get to the next level. In the end, not surprisingly, I never graduated from high school.

I withdrew – for the last time.

As with many other students with little academic potential, I was encouraged to take a vocational direction as a means to support myself in life. And, since an early age I found I was apt with all things not related to language, I excelled at arts and crafts, woodworking and metal shop; basically I embraced my physical world.

In my later teens, I was formally trained in carpentry, technical drafting, and auto mechanics. In all these domains, I arrogantly say now, I excelled. However, I was not content – I wanted more – I wanted to express myself with prose.

At this point I really wish I could say there was a person – Superman perhaps – or more realistically an educator, who helped me with my language issues and helped me transform my life. But the fact of the matter is, there has never been anyone. Technology, computers more specifically, on the other hand, has been very kind and nonjudgmental. Unfortunately it took a while before the economics of computers made them accessible. And, in terms of my K-12 education, I missed the boat; in the mid 80’s, just as computers were entering the high schools I was being pushed out. 9

My technological educational transformation has been dubious. In the beginning I was lured into the realm of computers by the attraction of their graphic capabilities. It was a world of hacks, cracks and system failures – mostly with CAD (computer aided design) software. Today, with the aid of assisted technologies, open source software, access to information (like Wikipedia), Google, and a means to publish my ideas, I write these words with relative confidence. Proudly, I say the pinnacle of my transformation is represented by my teaching teachers (Concordia University) how to integrate technology into their classrooms.

Grand Inspiration

Just as the industrial revolution changed the standard of living for millions, the computer revolution is changing the educational standards for billions. I hope it is clear – I have a very intimate and profound relationship with technology. I sincerely believe technology saved my life. If it wasn’t for technology I would not be able to express myself in this manner and you would not be reading this story. Technology transformed me from a bed wetter into a superhero. However, I am not a superhero of the likes of Metro Man, I am more like Megamind. And, with a name like Lexx Lazerman it is not difficult to take on the personification of a superhero. Today, I see myself as an ambassador of education armed with technological know-how and determined to inspire the strong and weak alike, for I believe in the power of education. That is, I believe education has the power to transform people’s lives.

Footnotes

  1. A borrowed term from Matt Ridley’s excellent book, Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience and What Makes Us Human
  2. I have three full- and three half-siblings. All appear to be intelligent, yet all, in my opinion, seem to be underachievers in the realm of education.
  3. It is widely believed if a child is neglected emotionally, that child does not develop properly.
  4. Places we lived included Ottawa, Boston, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and on a 40-foot fishing vessel.
  5. One of many deportations. I would like one day to tell the many stories of my biological father’s struggles to live the American dream but can’t seem to find the relevance to this blog.
  6. One of my step father’s precinct was the same precinct where they shot the film Serpico.
  7. Ralph Wiggum is a recurring fictional character on the animated series, The Simpsons.
  8. Sarah Silverman, a Jewish comedian, admits she was a bed wetter and uses it as a comical device in her acts.
  9. Being pushed out of high school is what happens to many students once they reach 18.

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6 Responses to “An Education Transformation: How technology transformed a bedwetter into a superhero”

  1. Konstantina Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article; it was very interesting and well written! It sounds like you’ve come along way. Keep up the great work 🙂

  2. Minying Says:

    I think this is one of the most inspiring articles I ever read.
    Further, I am very impressed with what you have achieved at this moment.
    You have improved so much and I hope will continue improving.
    It will be interesting to see, as an educator how you could help others with learning disabilities.

  3. Vila Says:

    You’ve brought up some very interesting questions. Which one came first? Nurture or nature? I believe that our life experiences can make us a much more understanding educator. We should use that to our advantage by letting children know that we do “see” them (as you mentioned) and helping them feel empowered in the classroom (since that is where educators spend most time with students). In response to your comment on how “education has the power to transform people’s lives”, I believe that education can transform people’s lives either for better or for worse. It depends on how we perceive education and how we plan to use it. An educator holds alot more power than they think they do. Combined with your education and life experience, I trust that you will be a wonderful mentor Lexx.

  4. Jordan L Says:

    Very intimate. I’m glade you survived, friend of mine.

  5. Marina Souranis Says:

    I really enjoyed reading your story.

    Thank you for being comfortable and brave enough to write it in such an intimate way. Your story is so well written it doesn’t seem like you had a language problem at all. I think you have developed a gift in the ability to express yourself so clearly. Honestly I am feeling inspired and tempted to write about the tragedy that happened to myself and my family almost three years ago. It’s a story I feel it needs to come out because it has changed me, but I just don’t know how to phrase it properly. But I think your story will get me thinking about it and may get me going. I think you stand to be a mentor to more than just people with disabilities but also a mentor to people that are feeling withdrawn from personal problems.

    Keep blogging. I like stories of survival

  6. Joyce Tam Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article.

    It took a lot of courage to speak up about your life experiences that can be a barrier to your growth in learning. I see very well that you can express yourself very clearly. We have to ask questions about the quality of education today. Sometimes, teaching students in a structured environment, whether public or private schools, does not help them because students have different learning styles and some may have unresolved personal problems. I am no educator. I say this from my personal experiences and from what I heard of others about education.

    I can relate to this language problem that you wrote about but in a different way. As an immigrant’s child, I am more proficient in Chinese than English and French, which made my childhood’s learning experience a bad thing and it is hard to gain acceptance from others.

    You inspired me to write my own story in the near future. Keep up with the good work!

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