One of the hardest lessons to learn is that not everyone is nice and kind; some folks are just plain jerks. Today, Mary and Peter run into one of those folks – but they also meet Daniel, who will become another member of the Secret Science Society. And it all happens when they start seeing red…
It was early Thursday morning, and Peter and Mary had just walked into their school when they saw something horrible going on. An older student was standing by one of the younger students and was making fun of him.
“Hey! That’s Daniel!” Mary exclaimed. “He just moved here; I showed him around the school last week.”
“Nyah, nyah – can’t read!” the bully chanted. “Can’t read, you’re a fool, shouldn’t even be in school!”
“Hey!” Peter said. “That’s not nice!”
“I’m going to get a teacher!” Mary added as the bully took up his chant again. As she started to go, the bully stopped and stared behind her.
“No need,” came Mr. Medes’ voice from just behind her. His normally cheerful face was creased in a frown. “I’m already here. Just what do you think that you are doing, young man?”
“Nothin'” the bully replied. “I’m just sayin’ what every body knows. Everyone knows that Dumb Danny here can’t read. He’s always stammering in class and getting the words wrong.”
“What everybody knows is wrong,” came Mr. Medes’ flat denial. “And what I know is that you need to go to the principal’s office, right now. I’ll be along in a minute, and you can explain yourself to your parents once we bring them here.”
Looking more than a little chastened, the bully slowly walked up the hallway toward the principal’s office.
“About time!” Peter whispered to Mary. “That bully has been picking on kids all year!”
Turning to Danny, Mr. Medes asked “Are you OK, Daniel?”
“Sure,” Daniel replied. “Mary and Peter stopped him before he could do anything but call me names.”
“Thank you, Peter, Mary. If you will excuse me, I must go see to our young miscreant.” With that, Mr. Medes turned and headed for the principal’s office.
“Why did that bully say you can’t read?” Peter asked. “Every time I see you, you’ve got your nose buried in a book!”
“I’ve got dyslexia,” Daniel replied. “It makes words look funny to me. So I have to practice reading, lots.”
At that moment, the homeroom bell rang.
“Oops!” Daniel said. “Gotta run!”
The three friends went their classrooms and didn’t see each other again until lunchtime. During lunch they sat together as Peter and Mary told Daniel about their club and some of the experiments that they had done.
“Gosh, I wish I could do an experiment!” Daniel said. “But what could we do before class?”
“Let’s go to Mr. Medes,” Mary said. “He’s got lots of ideas for experiments.”
Cleaning up their lunch trays, the three headed for Mr. Medes’ classroom.
“Mr. Medes,” Mary started, “we were talking about experiments at lunch and Daniel would like to try one. Do you have any ideas?”
“I wish there were an experiment that would let you see what its like to be dyslexic,” Daniel added.
“That’s a great idea, Daniel!” Mr. Medes said. Turning to the board, he quickly wrote with four different colors of marker:
|RED GREEN BLUE BLACK
||GREEN BLUE BLACK RED
|BLACK RED GREEN BLUE
||BLUE BLACK RED GREEN
|BLUE BLACK RED GREEN
||BLACK RED GREEN BLUE
|GREEN BLUE BLACK RED
||BLACK BLUE GREEN RED
“Why are you writing a bunch of colors?” Daniel asked. “And why are they in different markers?”
“Because this Stroop test will let Peter and Mary see what it is like to be dyslexic,” Mr. Medes replied. “Tell me, Peter, can you tell me what colors used to write those words?”
“Sure,” Peter said. “You used red, green, blue, and black marker. What kind of a question is that?”
“A very important one. You see, we’re going to see what happens when your brain gets a little confused. All you have to do is tell me which color each word is written in, as quickly as possible. Do you think you can do that without making a mistake?”
“Sure,” Peter replied.
“How about you, Mary?”
“I don’t know; it looks kind of tricky,” she said.
“Well, the only way to find out it to do the experiment,” Mr. Medes said as he handed Daniel a stopwatch. “Daniel, would you time them, please? What you have to do is read each test as quickly as you can. Daniel will time you on each one. Will you read one of them faster than the other or will you take the same amount of time for both?”
“I think that test two will take longer,” Mary said.
“No, they’ll both take the same amount of time,” Peter contradicted.
“Well, let’s find out!” Daniel said, excited to be taking part in his first experiment.
What do you think will happen? Do the experiment!
Staring at the board, Peter quickly read out the colors in test one without a mistake. But the second test was very different.
“Red, green, blue, black, red, green, blue, black, red, blue, blue, black, I mean red, green, no blue,” Peter said. “I give up! Nobody can do this!”
“Welcome to my world,” Daniel said.
Mr. Medes just smiled and pointed at Mary. “OK, Mary. You are up. Ready? Set, go!”
Mary started calling out the color names in test one. Like Peter, she was able to read them out without making a mistake.But like Peter, she also bogged down on the second test. Though she was able to go one line further than Peter had before making a mistake, it took her nearly twice as long to read the colors in test two as the first one.
“Wow!” Daniel said. “Why did they get so confused on the second test?”
“What happened is that different parts of their brains were fighting,” Mr. Medes replied. “When you learn to read, your brain gets programmed to think of the color red every time it sees the word red. Because the colors and the words matched in the first test, it was easy to read them out. But the words and the colors didn’t match in the second test, so it takes just a little extra time to remember that you want the color the word was written in and not the color the word names.”
“That’s like what happens when I read!” Daniel exclaimed. “I have to pay extra attention so that I see the words right.”
“I told you that they’d walk a mile in your shoes,” Mr. Medes said. “Though nobody knows for sure what causes dyslexia, it has effects that are a lot like those that Peter and Mary just experienced. As a matter of fact, there are some neurologists that use this Stroop test to help diagnose dyslexia.”
“Gosh!” Peter said. “That must be tough!”
“Yeah,” Daniel replied. “I have to read everything twice to be sure I read it right. And I have to do extra homework to do to improve my reading. But I can read, and I’m getting straight A’s.”
Mary let out a low whistle. “Wow – that’s better than either Peter or I am doing!”
“Well, he’s not alone. Many famous scientists were probably dyslexic, from Leonardo da Vinci to Thomas Edison to Alexander Graham Bell.”
Just then the class bell rang.
“Speaking of bells, it it time for you to get to class, Daniel!” Mr. Medes said as he turned to erase the board. “See you in sixth hour!”
With a wave to his two new friends, Daniel went off to his next class, happy to have been part of his first experiment.