PC READS and Hall Family Fund books author and student advocate Jonathan Mooney
Jonathan Mooney is on a mission.
The author of “Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn and Thrive Outside the Lines,” who will give a free presentation at PC READS on Oct. 30, wants to prevent the ridicule and marginalization he experienced when teachers labeled his dyslexia and ADHD as “deficiencies.”
“I had a tough go in school, because my differences were treated as deficiencies, and I was made to feel I was less than the other kids,” he said.
Mooney spent a lot of time chilling out with the janitor in the hallway, and spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom to escape reading out loud.
“It was a long haul, and when I came out of the other end of the journey still intact, and having transcended the low expectations people had put upon me, I saw it was my moral obligation to go out there and help others and share my story with young people to let them know they’re not alone,” he said.
Mooney is a proponent of neurodiversity, the idea that neurological like attention deficit disorders, dyslexia and autism are not to be treated as ailments, but as unique gifts that should be respected.
During his talk, which is co-hosted by The Hall Family Fund, a dyslexia nonprofit, Mooney will address the stories found in his book.
“I will discuss the myth of what is perceived as the normal way to learn and how that myth has been institutionalized into a one-size-fits-all approach to learning that ends up fitting nobody and the damage that does to kids with learning differences,” he said. “Most importantly, I will talk about what we as parents, educators and a culture, can do to celebrate, as opposed to pathologize, these differences, and empower kids who think differently.”
“Normal Sucks” is Mooney’s third book that addresses student advocacy.
He wrote his first book, “Learning Outside the Lines,” while an undergraduate at Brown University with fellow student David Cole.
It gives students ways to take control and find success through study suggestions that challenges readers to reimagine education, according to Mooney.
The book, which first hit the shelves in 2000, is now in its 28th printing.
“That book was a guide, and a book we wished we had when we were 14 to navigate a world that wasn’t built for us,” Mooney said. “In that sense, the book was very practical and pragmatic. And in writing that book, we started the conversation that maybe we weren’t the problem. Maybe the problem was the system.”
After he published the book, Mooney found himself sharing the story and the book with people around the country.
“That’s when I learned I wasn’t alone with my differences,” he said. “After the first talk, which was pretty bad, because I was a terrible speaker, kids came up to me and said I had told a little part of their story.”
With that experience in mind, Mooney decided to seek out students with learning and behavioral differences for his follow-up book, “The Short Bus.”
“I bought a bus that many people identify as a ‘special education’ bus and drove around the United States, interviewing students,” he said. “I wanted to dig up the heart, the ideology, of the education system, that ends up damaging people who were different.”
During these interviews and observations, Mooney concluded that the problem is that there is a fake concept of being a normal human.
“After that book, I dove into the idea of where that normal comes from,” he said. “I wanted to find out why it has the power it does. I wanted to find ways we could resist it and reject the tyranny of normalcy so we can celebrate the power of being different.”
That’s what led Mooney to write “Normal Sucks.”
While writing these books, Mooney learned a lot about himself.
“One of the big things I found was the extent of the existential wounds that I experienced when I was disqualified and discredited as a human being by labeling me ‘deficient,’” he said. “I mean, I always knew it sucked to be the kid in the slow reading group. That alone was damaging to my sense of self, but I didn’t realize how broken I had become.”
These days, Mooney says one of his biggest rewards is traveling the country and talking about student advocacy in presentations produced by groups such as PC READS.
“When ‘Normal Sucks’ was getting ready to come out, the publisher suggested a book tour, and I said, let’s not do that because those things suck,” Mooney said. “I told them that I would rather partner with passionate, grassroots organizations that care about this issue and who are doing great work, and PC READS is one of those groups who stepped up to the plate. I’m just one hand, and we need all the hands we can get to make this change.”
PC READS Executive Director Elissa Aten is looking forward to hearing what Mooney has to say.
“We were so excited when Jonathan reached out to us about visiting Park City on his book tour,” she said. “His books are engaging, informative and humorous and there’s every reason to believe that his presentation will be thought-provoking and entertaining.”
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Jonathan Kolon will honor Park City and mark the trials the country has gone through with COVID-19 when he releases his new song “This Highway Ends” on April 30.