Dear Dr. Tony G. Waldrop — The Center for Dyslexia (1st email)

Dear Dr. Tony G. Waldrop — The Center for Dyslexia (1st email)

Ted Burnett
500 Lincoln Street, Ste. B-105, Daphne, AL 36526                             

June 24, 2017

Dr. Tony G. Waldrop
University of South Alabama
Mobile, AL 36688

Dr. Waldrop,

(My proposal is on page 5.)

There’s a saying outside of education and maybe inside the houses of troubled students and that is the “A” students work for the “B” students, the “B” students work for the “C” students and the “D” students put their name on the building. Is it true? At least, that’s what Paul Orfalea’s mother told him while he was struggling in high school due to dyslexia. (I remember a neighbor of mine being told the same thing by his mother, one day, in their house.) Paul was kicked out of practically every high school in Los Angeles, CA.

One school official stated to his mother that Paul should try carpet laying. His mom wouldn’t hear of it. At the USC Marshall Business School, Paul made the team’s copies in exchange for them doing the rest of the project. As the story goes Paul got a gem of an idea while standing in line waiting for his turn at the copy machine. With a loan of $5,000 from his parents, Paul opened his first copy shop selling to college kids, in 1970. Because of his curly hair his family and friends knew him as “Kinko’s”. In 2004, FedEx paid $2.4 billion for Kinko’s.

In 2000, Orfalea established the Orfalea Family Foundation that deals with differences in learning, care in early life stages, knowledge-giving programs that span the needs of multiple generations, and training for caregiving.[4] The Orfalea Foundation, as it is now known, focuses on early childhood education, K-college education, and youth development, primarily in Santa Barbara County, California. The foundation is known for taking direct action as well as making grants… In 2001, the California Polytechnic State University’s College of Business was renamed the Orfalea College of Business, in recognition of his $15 million gift to the school.

The following is my story as a student and child going through elementary school, high school, college into my brief career as a salesman and now as a writer of ten years. I would expect this experience to be typical of most dyslexics who go to elementary school and high school before attempting college. Anyone with a learning disability who joins a fraternity or sorority in their first year I would expect them to fail out from too much partying and drinking especially at the big schools like Alabama and Auburn. There’s too much pressure to please one’s brothers and sisters for a freshman to handle. I don’t have all the answers to my project, but I do believe an untapped gold mine is passing right through your university and others like it because the nature of academia is to reward the “A” students while ignoring the “C” or “D” students or even the dropouts.

The “A” student is maximizing his or her abilities on each and every paper, quiz and test; the “C” and “D” students potential has yet to be expressed or unleashed and if it ever is just watch out. They’ll become a natural industry leader and just maybe a household name. Alabama for all its players will have only a few drafted and have an opportunity to play. How many of these signed players give back to the university while their playing in the NFL or after their career is over and the money is no longer rolling in. These dyslexics are going to work for 40 years and over time their chances at finding real success and making real money only gets better.

My Story

My interest in dyslexia began when a psychometrist at the University of South Alabama diagnosed me with “dyslexia”. I was seven years old and in the second grade at St. Ignatius Catholic School, in Spring Hill. I don’t remember another word she said. However, I would come to know, all too well, the pain and suffering caused by dyslexia in the years that followed. Early on, I was unable to read, to do reading comprehension exercises, to spell or to even write a simple “thank you” note without leaving words out of my sentences or substituting the wrong word, entirely. I had to attend summer school three years in a row. I got my first tutor in the fourth grade and I would continue to need them all the way through high school and college.

My mind often thinks of one word while my hand and pen are known to write down something else. School was never easy or fun. It left me feeling embarrassed. I was constantly on guard. School instilled a lot of fear in me. There were many nights while in grade school where I went to bed hoping to sleep through the following school day, in order, to miss a test or not turn in an assignment that I had not completed. Whatever curiosity and ambition I was born with as a child was beaten out of me by school caused by the frustrations of poor scores on assignments and low test scores with the passing of years. Every time our teacher would have us read a paragraph or two out loud, I had to figure out what two paragraphs that I would have to read before it was my turn and quietly read them to myself, repeatedly. I had no confidence in my ability to read and I didn’t want to tip off my teacher or my fellow classmates by reading a wrong or the sentence wrong. Frequently, I had no clue what I was reading. It didn’t matter, as long as, it sounded good and it didn’t alert my teacher of my strategy.

School made me angry, hurt and demoralized. I experienced a lot of depression. Seeing that I couldn’t take my anger out on my teachers or the school, I channeled my frustrations into aggression during gym class., organized football and basketball practice and games. School was a pressure cooker, it was the very thing that keeps dyslexics struggling rather than being free to think and dream big in class. What comes easy to the “A”, “A-B” students is often difficult for me and all those with a learning disability. We, “C” students, are doing marginal work when we’re really capable of doing great work. Unfortunately, every school creates its own curriculum with all of these hoops that have to be cleared in order to pass the course, pass the grade level and finally to get the school’s diploma. Students have no say so on the design of the curriculum and for all the credit hours required to graduate students have maybe two electives to choose from.

I attended Auburn University in Montgomery (1990-91) at the suggestion of my counselor with the Alabama Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. I was one of several students in my senior class at McGill-Toolen High School to get a “scholarship” to attend college and went to AUM. The state paid for our tuition, books, books on tape, tutors and fees for all four years. AUM had a small student population unlike Auburn University. However, it was a suitcase college and thus pretty quiet on the weekends. After my first year, I transferred to Auburn. I had originally declared my major as “political science” because I had always liked politics, American history and the founding of our country. I had hoped to attend law school with the plans of one day getting into politics.

At AUM, I got a “D” in communications class. I was a poor writer. When I got to Auburn, I was required to retake that course where I barely squeaked out a “C”. After passing the class, I did some soul searching. I concluded that in my junior and senior years of political science, I would be required to write more papers and give speeches. All evidence pointed to me being bad at both. I could have failed out. I made a strategic move and changed majors to forestry where it was heavy on math and science, but light on writing papers and giving speeches. In reality, I had to only give one speech and one paper to graduate. I had tutors in numerous math and calculus classes. After four years of heavy drinking in high school, I got sober my junior year and I remained sober while a student at Auburn. Because school was such a challenge, I didn’t participate in any clubs or fraternities. Had I drank in college I would have most likely washed out of school during my first year? My father, a Vietnam Veteran with a learning disability, failed out of The University of Alabama. His failure led to my decision to go to Auburn.

I graduated from Auburn (1995) not realizing how much fear was driving my life. In 1996, I worked for the next nine years in the corporate world selling a host of products and services for seven different firms and getting fired four times due to dyslexia. In 2002, I got married and had a nervous breakdown during wedding weekend under the career pressures and stressors. After my first hospitalization, I started writing for the first time, ever. I took an online IQ test and scored a 142, which was up from 100 in the eighth grade. That May, Fortune’s cover story was about CEOs with dyslexia and my boss turned me on to the story. It was the first time in my life where I learned that dyslexia had an upside along with a list of famous people. I was 32 years old. Following my divorce and getting kicked out of graduate school for counseling at South, I started writing for only the second time in my life, at the age of 36 (2007).

I took away from graduate school that I could successfully debate with my professors. Rather than shop each political and social commentary with newspapers, magazines and journals and be confronted by their gatekeepers, I decided to build my own audience. I wrote to three universities in Louisiana introducing myself to a dozen faculty members at LSU, Tulane and UNO. I received two emails back on the same day where professors insulted me and my effort. Today, I write to over 15,000 professors teaching at some ninety to one hundred colleges and universities. Some forty-five are considered world-class, in thirteen countries. I write to MIT, MIT Sloan, to all eight Ivy League schools where some 2,000 teach at Harvard University. I share my work with five undergraduate programs History, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology and Theology and Business, Kennedy, Law, Medical and Public Health schools.

In 2009, I heard from Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren when she submitted three of my essays to her committee that she chaired, in Washington. Each time, I got an email from the Congressional Oversight Panel, which was responsible for tracking down the T.A.R.P money following the 2008 global credit crisis and how banks spent it. In 2011, I heard from an associate of Harvard Business School Professor Michael E. Porter thanking me for sharing one of my essays on “Corporate consciousness”. Lastly, in 2014, I heard from Dennis Norman, Ed., Chair of Psychology, Massachusetts General Hospital, in the Harvard Medical School. In the ten years, my work has repeatedly been praised, shared and in one case quoted by a graduate student at Penn. I’ve never once asked for an accolade from anyone. My website is full of them. All from the same kid who was lucky enough to pass his classes with “Cs”. I trust that God has me where he wants me. I would like to see dyslexics learn in college what I only learned after my breakdown at 32.

Only in my adult life (at 46) have I come to learn more about dyslexia and its impact on my earlier life. Today, I know that I have short-term memory issues making it difficult to remember names, phone numbers, addresses and trouble writing information down correctly and timely without asking the teacher or another party to repeat themselves. After the third or fourth time, I get embarrassed and just give up. I now suspect that my short-term memory impacted my performance listening to lectures, taking notes, studying for tests, taking tests and the many tasks associated with sales and working.

For the dyslexic, school is a very emotionally searing experience and entering college can be very intimidating. When you have so such bad history with school one’s confidence is low or shoot and one’s self-criticism can be very high with little room for making mistakes. The ego keeps one from asking for help in a timely manner. How do you replace twelve years of bad history by giving yourself a chance and establishing some good history that leads to one’s confidence growing while reawakening the dyslexics’ curiosity and ambition?

Dyslexics are one segment of your student population (One in five students has dyslexia (elementary school), (college ??) who are generally considered to be “C” students or worse and for the most part, they’re going unnoticed and under the faculty’s radar. However, if they discover one of their talents the sky is the limit on what they can do in the world. Their output doesn’t simply go to that of the “A” student it’s more like them becoming “AAA” students, which is something that your university’s grading scale and others doesn’t measure for. I’m not sure if you looked at the list of famous people, but their talents can be found in every department and school in your campus.

Yale University’s Drs. Bennett and Sally Shaywitz study dyslexia at The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, at Yale University. Several years ago, they were invited to give a presentation, at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland on dyslexia and what they have learned. The Shaywitz didn’t understand why they were even invited until every King, President and CEO pulled them aside to discuss their own personal problems with dyslexia. Their story at Davos is below.

Fortune magazine, May 13, 2002, Cover story – CEOs with dyslexia

The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity – “Transforming dyslexia from a liability to an asset.”

Wikipedia – A list of people diagnosed with dyslexia

Wikipedia – Paul Orfalea

The Proposal

I would like to see the University of South Alabama establish a program for developing and recruiting dyslexics to South that voluntarily brings these students from this unique population together from across the campus during the school year, either, on an academic and/or social basis. The goal is to help them address their past emotional and psychological wounds by coming together and talking. Reduce the pressure cooker atmosphere that school can frequently be on these students so that they can breathe, think and dream big. Help them regain their curiosity and their ambition in wanting to learn and grow, once again. Understand the strengths of dyslexia and its many famous people.

Bring a famous dyslexic to campus to tell their story to this group. USA could actively recruit students from across the state in the same way that Coach Joey Jones recruits players for the football program. Dyslexia is really a gift even if most academics and administrators don’t realize it. Dyslexia and the “C” student challenge the narrative that the scholarship should always go to the “A” student. Is South willing to think differently? The history of famous dyslexics is well established and the present is full of famous people living and their achievements are known. The future is coming will the University of South Alabama and the city of Mobile be a part of it?

Most of USA’s students come from Mobile, AL area. Over the past 40 years, Mobile’s economy has lost a lot of its headquartered companies and energy. To awaken one of these students to their talents while still in college could lead to the next Facebook, Uber… that could be launched right here in Mobile. What could that mean in terms of the school’s and city’s reputation, # of jobs created and the foundation money that might be injected back into this community?

I was recently told that Mobile’s United Way campaign goal, for 2017, had fallen to only $6 million while Birmingham’s is set at $35 million.

About Ted Burnett

I’m an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, governors and lawmakers), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website:

 Ted Burnett: I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: