Learning activist highlights student difference

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Author and learning activist Jonathan Mooney speaks to students to close out the 50th anniversary celebration for UConn’s Center for Students with Disabilities on April 4th, 2018 at the Student Union Theater. (Judah Singleton/The Daily Campus)

Author and activist Jonathan Mooney highlighted the fallacy of normalcy in an American education at the University of Connecticut’s Student Union Theater on Wednesday, as part of the final month of the 50-year anniversary celebration for the UConn Center for Students with Disabilities [CSD]. 

The discussion, and Mooney’s latest book “The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal,” focused mainly around redefining what “normal” is in a classroom setting for students with different minds and bodies.

“Social justice begins by challenging who or what we call the problem,” Mooney said. “I’ve really come to believe that the problem isn’t in the person; that these things we call “disabilities” are differences in the truest sense of the word, and the problem is in the interaction between the difference and the environment.”

Mooney is a graduate of Brown University with an honors degree in English literature and author of two books on living with learning disorders, “Learning Outside the Lines” and “The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal.”

Mooney has dyslexia and ADHD, conditions that he describes as inhibiting to his learning experience as a child and encouraged him to take on a life of activism for those living with disorders.

“I’m not naive about the challenges that come with this brain,” Mooney said. “But you know what goes hand in hand with some of those challenges? A whole bunch of strengths, gifts and talents that we don’t talk enough about.”   

Mooney discussed how he’s working towards ensuring that those who are affected by disorders feel welcome in a school environment.

“When we grow up in a culture that venerates and elevates certain minds and bodies over others, if you don’t have that mind or body, you feel defective as a human being,” Mooney said. “[Those living with disorders] aren’t broken. The whole idea of “normal” is the problem. That’s what’s broken.”

During the talk, Mooney set out three goals for his activism: redefining standards for students, trying to include those with disabilities rather than “fixing” them and changing academic and social environments to be more accommodating of unique bodies and minds.

“When I think about what it means to move somebody forward on a journey of change, what it means to build a classroom, a university, a world that’s more inclusive of difference it means (these) three things,” Mooney said.

Mooney also discussed how there are multiple forms of intelligence despite the common stereotypes that define it through skills such as reading comprehension.

“We’ve lost the opportunity to not find out how smart we are, but how we are smart,” Mooney said. “Intelligence is not one thing but many.”

Mooney concluded by making special mention of the CSD’s history and wished them luck in the future.

“I do want to recognize the center. Fifty years of making sure that the university didn’t just work for some students, but worked for all students,” Mooney said. “[They’re] out there every day fighting for every single human being’s right to be different.”


Collin Sitz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at collin.sitz@uconn.edu.

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