Henry Winkler Urges Education Reform
Education Theodor Herzl once said, “If you will it, it is not a dream.” These are the words that inspired Henry Winkler to overcome his learning disabilities, dyslexia and dyscalculia.
The award-winning actor hopes to motivate kids facing similar challenges to gain confidence. Winkler, best known for playing Arthur Fonzarelli in the beloved "Happy Days" television series, knows how it feels to be among the one in five kids diagnosed with a learning disability. As a young student, he was frequently grounded for his grades, especially for his failure at mastering geometry.
Conquering the obstacles
But Winkler, now 68, never let that stop him from becoming an actor, a graduate from the Yale School of Drama, a respected producer, director and author.
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“Not one human being during my career has ever mentioned the word ‘hypotenuse,’” jokes Winkler, poking some fun at his own disability. Winkler was not aware of his learning disabilities until he was 31, but he was relieved to discover there was a reason for his struggles rather than a lack of drive.
He uses his own experiences to urge education reform, especially an individualized learning approach that celebrates the kids at the bottom of the class as much as those at the pinnacle of class rankings.
Helping younger generations
“The first thing we have to do is to show kids how they can learn rather than what we think they should learn,” he says, referring to the pressures to teach for standardized tests that are difficult for some.
“The first thing we have to do is to show kids how they can learn rather than what we think they should learn.”
Too often today, he reasons, educators must teach the fastest and slowest kids in the class the same material in the same timeframe. “At least 20 percent of the student population is not going to do well on standardized tests," Winkler said, “and I know for a fact that the 20 percent, through their tenacity and talent, go on to become pediatricians, neurosurgeons, dancers and mathematicians.”
Winkler is the perfect example that success is not defined by school performance. He’s especially outspoken about maintaining funding for the arts—the only avenue for some students to express themselves and excel.
A galvanized effort
To offset overwhelmed teachers, he suggests tapping grandparents who have knowledge and patience to assist in classroom.
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Parents and relatives often ask Winkler his advice on helping kids tackle roadblocks. “It is our job to make sure the child’s self-image doesn’t plummet,” he suggests, “we have to make them feel confident that they can and will achieve.”
He envisions a galvanized effort across the U.S. to make education 'delicious'—like ice cream. “It tastes good and feels good. I love seeing a child finally 'get' something. You feel great because you brought it to light.”