Letter from Board Chair
From the Board Chair
Challenge your strengths and strengthen your challenges
In 1937, Gertrude Webb found this to be true when she began teaching high school English. It was there where she encountered an articulate and thoughtful student named Billy who did well in class discussion. She was amazed when his first written test came back full of misspellings, poor grammar, and incomprehensible organization. She was incensed by how little other teachers and administrators seemed to care about students like Billy, who learned differently. This was her first experience with a student struggling with dyslexia, and the seed of what would become her life’s work. Together, she and her husband, an attorney, worked with the Massachusetts legislature to create the first law in the United States that would ensure that all children would be educated in a way that would help them succeed. That Massachusetts law, now know as Chapter 766, later became the model for the federal law.
In 1969, she proposed to the President of Curry College the creation of what would become the first program in the country for college-able dyslexic students. Not only is that program at Curry still going strong, but it’s been replicated both across the United States and internationally. Until her death at the age of 96, Dr. Webb travelled, spoke, and taught throughout the United States, in Costa Rica and Brazil, in the Middle East, in London and in much of Europe. She taught royalty and she taught underprivileged inner-city children. And with every child, she looked into their eyes and let them know that she cared about helping them become the best person they could be. This caring investment in a child’s education is what all children deserve, because it directly reflects on their well being.
During the time of her early teachings learning differences were a common misconception by the majority of our society. Few had the understanding that it was possible for people to learn in a variety of ways and still achieve greatness. Then, these differences were not widely acknowledged and therefore those who learned differently were marginalized in the classroom. Many kids were left with little confidence they could do something great for the world, because they would believe people who said they would not succeed. Webb tried to alleviate these self destructive feelings by not dwelling on the weaknesses of her pupils, but by promoting their strengths. This teaching style is critical to the natural development of children coping with their learning differences, because it gives kids a chance to love learning and not resent it. The term “dyslexia” has habitually invoked negative connotations into the mind, but the word is now more frequently used with somewhat of a better understanding of the definition. It is still often that people associate learning differences with a lack of depth or intelligence. One in five Americans is dyslexic, excluding those undiagnosed and untreated, yet our society still does not fully accommodate the needs of these learners or comprehend their brainpower. The minds of persons affected by dyslexia are extraordinary and it's time they were recognized for that.
A person is defined by what they can do, not by what they cannot do.
Gertrude Webb was truly the Mother of Special Education. The ripples of her intellect, love, and energy continue to be felt by countless individuals. Through the creation of a film, the Webb Innovation Center for Dyslexia (WICD.org) hopes share her story and wisdom with the world. Film is a medium that can be used to uncover truths about our world and provide an unusual perspective for it’s audience. We sense there is an opportunity here for a story that would change people’s impression on those who learn differently. This film has the potential to influence and inspire a generation of learners. We hope that Gertrude Webb’s story and the push for equality in the educational system will resonate with you, and that you might champion it and help us achieve our goal.
Chairman of the Board