Book Review: The Short Bus

Blogging Against Disablism Day


I was contacted by Jonathan Mooney a little while ago and asked if I would be interested in writing a review of his book ‘The Short Bus’, subtitled ‘A Journey Beyond Normal’. It seemed to me that it would be very fitting if I were to write this review and publish it as part of the proceedings of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008.

Jonathan is one of those people who was badly let down by the education system – badly dyslexic, a ne’er-do-well who would quite obviously never get anywhere in life. So thought the education system. Although Jonathan almost lost hope himself, he proved the doubters wrong (don’t you just love it when that happens?), graduating from Brown University – with honours. Jonathan is now an author, speaker, and consultant, helping students, parents and educators; for details of what he gets up to nowadays (and how he may be able to help you), have a look at Jonathan’s web site.

The Short Bus

What is a short bus? Before I first picked up the book, I had no idea what a short bus was, so an explanation for those who share my ingnorance is probably in order. A short bus is just that – a shorter version of the American school bus that we see on the movies (and Americans doubtless see on the streets), generally used to transport students with various disabilities to educational facilities where their needs might best be met. I say this with a certain amount of sarcasm as Jonathan’s book suggests to me that both the assessment and meeting of needs falls short of what might be desirable.

Jonathan’s plan, as an adult, was to acquire a short bus, the symbol of his experiences with Special Education, convert it into an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and tour the USA for a couple of months, meeting people like himself who were considered ‘not normal’ by the educational establishment and had been let down by that same establishment but had then gone on to succeed in their own way – for their own given value of ‘normal’.

An Eye-Opener

With my mother having worked as a dyslexia consultant for some time, I was well aware of how students could be let down by the system. Reading Jonathan’s accounts is a real eye-opener, if not shocking in what it reveals. The inhumanity of the system and the educational ‘experts’ is brought into sharp relief by the humanity of Jonathan’s writing.

The book is also an eye-opener in a more positive way and allows me to trot out my much-use phrase, “for a given value of normal” when we see how supposedly not-normal people can succeed and prosper, despite the best efforts of the education system to break their spirits.

I could waffle on for ages and give you a potted summary of the book, but what would be the point? To really do this book justice I have just to present this advice: go out and buy/read it. Jonathan’s style is very engaging, very humane and – above all – very readable. Not bad for someone who was supposed not to be able to read and write.

The Short Bus by Jonathan Mooney is published by Henry Holt and is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other good booksellers.

This book contains occasional coarse language.