Some things run in the family.
My mother, Clare B. Jones, spent her career working on behalf of children with learning and thinking differences. She was a teacher, a director, a diagnostic specialist and a leader in the field of who helped kids understand how they learn best.
Raised by a Teacher I grew up helping in my mother’s classrooms, erasing blackboards and stacking school supplies. I sat in the back row of her night classes while she got her master’s degree and PhD in special education. And later, I spent my summers in her office when she was in private practice.
My mother was a passionate advocate for kids and believed strongly in their abilities. I saw firsthand the difference she made in their lives. She would say to me that she was giving children “tools to achieve and hope to believe.”
My mom loved what she did, but when it came to giving me career advice, she always said the same thing: “Be a lawyer.” Although I couldn’t understand it at the time, I think this advice was rooted in her own frustration with the system, both as a teacher and as a parent.
She was frustrated that too often in education we know how to do things better, but then we don’t. As a special education teacher, she was unhappy that she had to work so hard to have her kids included in the system and to get the they were entitled to.
Becoming a Lawyer to Make a Difference Eventually, I took my mother’s advice and became a lawyer. I represented school districts and parents in special education cases. It was rewarding and challenging.
But year after year, I saw some of the same things my mother saw. Whether it was debates over effective reading instruction, lack of resources and or miscommunication between parents and schools, I saw the same patterns over and over. I felt as if all of us were trying to address these issues one case at a time. To make a bigger difference, we needed to change the system.
And so I began working to change laws, to remove barriers and create opportunities for all kids to shine. I worked with many organizations until I became the advocacy director for the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), a founding partner of Understood. Now, I advocate in Washington, DC, to make a difference for kids across the country.
Real Change for All Kids What’s really holding us back from helping every child? Some of the problem is that we need better implementation and enforcement of the laws we have. But that’s not the whole story.
Sometimes the law is simply not working. For example, in NCLD’s report Diplomas at Risk, we showed how state laws about graduation requirements actually encourage kids with learning disabilities to get second-rate diplomas. In other situations, the law can encourage positive change. For instance, how many children could we help if we provided every teacher—in a training program or already practicing—good information about the best methods for teaching struggling learners?
If we change these laws, we can have a huge impact on millions of kids.
Changing a state or federal law can feel overwhelming or seem impossible, but it isn’t. When we join together with a common purpose we can make a huge difference.
You can be part of the movement to make things better. Visit the Action Center and sign up for advocacy updates.
My mother believed we could help our kids and so do I. That’s why I’m in this.
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About the author
Lindsay Jones, JD is chief executive officer of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).